Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Film: The Strange One (1957)

I think this one really qualifies as an Overlooked Film, especially in Finland, where it's never been shown in the Finnish Film Archive's screenings and it was last seen in TV in 1971. There is a rather recent DVD, but there hasn't been much talk about the film, at least in the venues I follow. I managed to see the film last Monday, when it was - for the first time, I believe - shown in the Film Archive screening here in Turku.

The Strange One was made in 1957, during a time when there was discussion on the new wave of American film making and the likes of John Cassavetes, Shirley Clarke, Lionel Rogosin and Irving Lerner. Jack Garfein fits the bill perfectly. The Strange One is a somewhat noir-influenced film about sociopathic Ben Gazzara who bullies other cadets and freshmen around a military academy somewhere in the South. Gazzara, making his film debut here, is simply wonderful in his moves and gestures. He's great in that he makes sure he's actually the only likable character in the film, albeit his misanthropic attitude. All the other characters in the story are stupid or irritating, so the viewer gets to sympathize the wrong guy. There's a strong noir undercurrent in The Strange One, one we know from the work of Jim Thompson and Jason Starr.

You probably realize that "The Strange One" refers to homosexuality - the title could be given to a gay/lesbian sleaze paperback of the early sixties. There's lots of homosexuality in The Strange One, from the latent homosexuality manifested in Gazzara's violent threat to the obviously homosexual writer of the barracks who wants to call Gazzara "Nightboy", clearly a queer moniker. The depiction of homosexuals in the film isn't overtly sympathetic, though.

The ending of the film could've been stronger, but it also has a surprise not many can see. This is based on Calder Willingham's novel End as a Man - I have it, but have never read it, any comments on it? The script was also by Willingham, from the play he made from the novel.

The Strange One is an alluring film that was ahead of its time in its depiction of homosexuality and sociopathic behaviour behind the walls of an institution. Some have said it's an analysis of American fascism. Whatever name you give the phenomena it depicts, The Strange One is still a powerful film in its own, marred only by some staginess and some overblown acting. What's most curious about the film is that the director Garfein is an Auschwitz survivor! His other film, almost dialogueless Something Wild, seems also very interesting.

More Overlooked Films here.


Todd Mason said...

Juri, I tend to leave up both rather than either...particularly as most viewers of the list on Tuesday last missed your review from last week...

Juri said...

Okay, you're probably right about that.