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Lon Chaney Jr.
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Army deserter Lee Patterson and Diane Cilento want to escape England by ship
"Passing Stranger" (1954) is a pretty good British noir. I watched the 68 minute version. Diane Cilento works at a roadside cafe for truckers with her protective and plain sister, Olive Gregg. Trucker Duncan Lamont, a solid but rather unperceptive bloke, wants Cilento to be his but she's hesitant, seeking a way to spread her wings and escape the dreary and constricted life she has. Lee Patterson is an American soldier who also wants to escape. After participating in a robbery of arms on the army base, he's a wanted man. He arrives at the cafe hidden in the back of Lamont's truck.
Cilento always brings an interesting combination of beauty, allure, strength and vulnerability to her roles and she has a somewhat husky voice. She's a very determined girl here who won't let Patterson go. Patterson almost single-handedly makes the film a noir by his resigned visage and downbeat assessment of his desperate situation. But with Cilento by his side, he and she get their hopes up. When the story moves to its exteriors at the harbor and during a second gun exchange, the moody noir photography takes over, enhancing the dour look considerably. Our hopes are with the young couple but we don't know if they'll make it.
Nothing too unpredictable on the romantic triangle side happens as Cilento and Patterson rather hit it off and Lamont's amorous advances are sidelined. Patterson has mechanic skills and hopes to melt into the local community. The sparks come elsewhere. Patterson has split the gang and they're looking for him too, for three reasons. He has some of the money. It's their necks if the police find him (a man was stabbed during the robbery) and there's another weapons deal to be handled and they need him because he made all the contacts. One of the gang, the stabber, is played by Harold Lang, not a household name but a recognizable actor in a good many noirs, playing rather tough, violent or irascible roles. He livens up the proceedings, as does his devious boss. Lang is searching for Patterson, and knowing he made off in a lorry he's looking at every truck cafe from London to Birmingham.
Patterson and Cilento are trying to get enough money to pay for undetected passage on Liam Redmond's ship and he finds that going back to the gang is his only option. There will be another arms trade, open to Lang's violence of which Patterson wants no part. It's a make or break deal for Patterson. The pressure is on. He and Cilento's ship will be leaving at 5:30 am, and it's a 3-hour drive to get there.
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