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Weirdly ineffective but creepy creepy plot idea...and Lupino doing just fine
Strange Intruder (1956)
Well, there were two things that really made me perk up for this B-movie: Ida Lupino as the lead and Ernest Haller as the cinematographer. The plot promised to be really quirky bordering on sensational, a story of vengeance in the cruelest sense. And the director, Irving Rapper, is a known quantity, too, having directed "Now Voyager" and a great version of "The Glass Menagerie."
It also begins with a kind of nasty vigor you might expect from the a Rapper depiction of a Korean War camp. But this is just a prelude to the movie, which takes place back in the US. There are issues right away, however--night scenes that are obviously day, people dying from gunfire with excessive theatrics, and even the spliced in documentary footage of warplanes dropping bombs nearby. But there is also a key friendship between two men established, and a kind of messianic killing of one of them.
So, eleven minutes in, we return to the US. The leading character is the survivor of the two, Paul Quentin, played by an English actor Edmund Purdom (Quentin explains he was naturalized before enlisting). Back home, he now as to readjust to normal life. This is a kind of film noir staple, of course (except his Britishness), but it turns dark in an unexpected way. His announced mental issues complicate how we read his erratic behavior. Much more than WWII, this was a symptom of returning Korean War soldiers, famously brainwashed and abused in prisons.
A slow, steady tension is built and when Lupino playing the widow finally appears halfway through the film, there is a conflict of memories because it's not her husband but her husband's friend at the family piano. She is filled not with sorrow for her dead husband but with angst over having been a bad wife to him while he was at war. It becomes clear that Quentin is there not to be friendly, but to exact some kind of justice on behalf of his war buddy, not so much on the wife (who he merely disdains) but on the children, who luckily are are boarding school for a couple days.
The resolution to this odd (and improbable) situation might have had power, but it is mostly just creepy and unsatisfying. It's almost as if there was once a truly horrifying and sinister trajectory that was aborted once they realized the audiences of the time (including many vets and survivors of men killed in action) wouldn't accept it. Lupino does a decent job with a handcuffed script, because she is really only acting repentant and tense the whole time. It is Quentin who is the man in the middle of it all, smarmy with the family and cruel with the widow. But he doesn't make much happen, and by the end you're like, "What?"
I've already said too much, I suppose, and if the plot sounds like a terrific melodrama, it could have been. It had potential.
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