Director: Pierre Rouve
Screenplay: Pierre Rouve, based on the novel Les Inconnus dans la Maison by George Simenon, published in 1940
Starring: James Mason, Geraldine Chaplin, Bobby Darin, Lisa Daniely, Ian Ogilvy
Country: United Kingdom
Running Time: 104 minutes
Year: 1967
BBFC Certificate: 15

This recent release in the BFI Flipside series is a forgotten British produced thriller from 1967. The film contrasts the swinging pop art and psychedelic culture enjoyed by the younger generation of the time with the more austere conservativeness of the previous generation. 

Director Pierre Rouve was a Bulgarian emigre, in his obituary The Independent described Rouve as a master of several trades: interpreter, diplomat, art critic, semiotician, BBC World Service broadcaster, film producer/director, translator, and university lecturer. Rouve had been associate director for the cult film Blow Up (1966), directed by Italian film director Michelangelo Antonioni; the films are similar in their use of a bright colourful palette, as well as psychedelic pop art type compositions in the costume, set design, and cinematography.

The film, shot on location in Winchester and Southampton, opens with title credits in bold swirling graphics, and a scene set in a night club full of super cool looking young people dressed in Mod fashions and dancing to a stomping groovy song performed by popular band of the period The Animals.

One of the central characters is John Sawyer (James Mason), we find out his wife has left him for another man, and he now lives in a rather empty and dilapidated house with his daughter Angela (Geraldine Chaplin). He exists in an alcoholic stupor, remembering scenes from his former life before his wife left him. In these episodes his wife (Lisa Daniely as Diana Sawyer) can appear in a surreal fantasy set pieces, often appearing undressed (although shot in a way that manages to avoid full nudity). Combined with regrets about his fall from status as a once successful criminal lawyer, John Sawyer is bitter and cynical, without focus in his life. James Mason is well cast to play this character, and delivers a fine performance. 

John Sawyer’s daughter Angela is part of the swinging group of hipsters portrayed at the start of the film, and the basic plot of the story is how this group chance upon a sailor, Barney Teale (Bobby Darin), when out gallivanting on a speed boat and trespassing what they believe to be an empty ship  (filmed in the  Southampton docks). After a mishap, Barney’s dead body turns up in Angela’s home. The film is constructed from flashbacks, moving back and forth between the investigation of what happened and different members of the group recounting their individual version of events. Angela’s boyfriend, Jo Christoforides (Paul Bertoya) is subsequently arrested for the murder of Barney, but things are not straightforward, it would seem Jo may have been set up, and someone needs to defend him in court. Thus providing an opportunity for John Sawyer to redeem himself in both the eyes of his daughter, and the eyes of his former profession as a criminal lawyer, by offering to defend Jo in court and negotiating a way out of his own imprisonment in an aimless alcoholic stupor. One of the stand out quotes from the film, delivered by John Sawyer is ‘I haven’t been listening to anyone for sixteen years but now I find myself listening to all and sundry’. Without giving away the entire plot, he makes his own investigations, and manages to solve the mystery at the heart of this thriller. 

The screenplay is based on a novel by Belgian author George Simenon, no less than the creator of Inspector Maigret. In the 1967 film the story is moved from occupied France to 1960s England. It was perhaps convenient for the director to approach the theme of isolation in the context of generations having contrasting moral beliefs and asthetic tastes, where as in the novel it would have been more profoundly isolation in the sense of divided ideologies between nations.

This film is a watchable, and fun thriller, very much of it’s time, and as you would expect being released under the BFI series title Flipside, is just that; an opportunity to revisit a forgotten moment of British film history. I think it will appeal to anyone who enjoys a bit of sixties, Mod, pop art type culture, but perhaps more significantly a truly great performance from James Mason, that until this rerelease may have been forgotten.

The release has some great extras, including a 25 min short film titled GG Passion; a fun psychedelic montage about a rock star who has 24 hours to live, shot in black and white and directed by David Bailey. It’s quite surreal, with reference to  the story Crime and Punishment by nineteenth century Russian author Fyodor Dostoevesky; it includes an interesting scene filmed in London zoo. There are several other extras, listed below, that nicely compliment the film, and make for a satisfying overall package, well worth consideration as an addition to any film viewers collection.

This edition of Stranger in the House was released on 25 February 2019 it becomes the 37th release in the BFI Flipside strand, presented on Blu-ray and DVD in a Dual Format Edition. A stack of archival extras include photographer David Bailey’s 1966 film G.G. Passion, a psychedelic 1968 advert for coffee, an interview with James Mason, a new commentary and an illustrated booklet.

Special features

  • Presented in High Definition and Standard Definition
  • G.G. Passion (David Bailey, 1966, 25 mins): a pop singer is hounded to death in this fab film featuring Chrissie Shrimpton and Caroline Munro
  • Good Strong Coffee (c1968, 2 mins): swingers swig coffee in this psychedelic ad for the black stuff
  • Tram Journey Through Southampton (c1900, 1 min)
  • Charlie Chaplin Sails From Southampton (1921, 1 min)
  • Southampton Docks (1964, 24 mins): marvellous mod machinery at work on a merchant vessel
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • James Mason in Conversation (1981, 86 mins, audio only): the actor discusses his career in an interview at the National Film Theatre, London
  • Newly recorded audio commentary by Flipside founders Vic Pratt and William Fowler
  • Illustrated booklet with new writing by Jonathan Rigby, Omer Ali and Antion Vikram Meredith (formerly Vic Briggs of The Animals)  
Stranger in the House
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