Friday, June 30, 2017
Beautiful Stranger (1952)
Beautiful Stranger, aka Twist of Fate, is an early 50s crime film starring Ginger Rogers and Herbert Lom. Not that's a description to get my attention!...
Young socialite and former actress Johnny is engaged to the wealthy Louis Galt, and living in the lush French Riviera. When her old friend Emile arrives asking for money, she gives it willingly, not realizing the money isn't intended for his sick wife, but for paying off a debt with a violent gang. Meanwhile, when Johnny finds out her would-be husband's divorce isn't quite as final as she'd prefer, she goes and in a huff and nearly crashes her car, meeting a dashing young sculptor when recovering. They fall in love, but things are complicated by Louis' underground dealings, especially when it turns out he's the mob boss Emile owes money too. The desperate Emile steals a precious bracelet of Johnny's, not realizing he's paying his debt with the very gift Louis got for Johnny. Coming to the correct conclusion via the wrong evidence, he discovers his fiancee is having an affair, thinking it's with Emile, and intends to do something about it...
I didn't get off on the right foot with Beautiful Stranger, as it broke its promise of starring Herbert Lom by not letting him show up until nearly half an hour in, then vanish for nearly just as long. That's enough of a problem that it understandably necessitates mentioning before anything else!
This movie is often described as a noir, but it doesn't really feel like one. It's more a romantic drama, with crime elements. I found it to be quite unenjoyable . It's plodding, listless, and I never felt it amounted to much.
The character of Emile isn't fleshed out as much as he could've, with multiple plot holes as a result. Why does he owe money? Why's he in the French Riviera instead of with his sick wife in America? Why does he gamble the money he borrows from Johnny instead of just giving it to the mobsters? And the list goes on. It's quite annoying! Meanwhile, the rest of the characters are either uninteresting and get the most screentime, or just the opposite.
Ultimately, Beautiful Stranger's biggest problem is that the story feels awfully overcomplicated for what amounts to a pretty simple plot.
The dialogue overall isn't that great, but "I stole it. I'm innocent!" is a line so hilarious it feels rather out of place, and I'm glad it's here. I needed a laugh with this film!
I think what impressed me least about Beautiful Stranger is the acting. I expected better out of some of these people! Onto the positives, Stanley Baker is good when being normal, and effectively villainous when need be. Herbert Lom delivers an interesting performance as the nervous wreck Emile, which some have compared positively to Peter Lorre. It's just a shame he doesn't get enough screentime to really sink his teeth fully into the role. As for the negatives, Ginger Rogers starts out fine enough, but becomes hopelessly dramatic, as does Jacques Bergerac. The duo's attempts at a romance end up cheapening the entire production.
Attached to the movie in the role of Louis before dropping out a few weeks in was Walter Rilla. There are rumours that he clashed with Rogers, and was pissed at his screentime compared to Bergerac. I don't know about the former, but the latter sounds false, as Stanley Baker gets plenty of time in the film, while Bergerac not only gets markedly less, he also doesn't show up until just about the halfway point.
Despite her age, and the role being intended for a 24 year old, Rogers does look young enough for the role. I mean, she ain't 24, but she also doesn't look older than her 30's, so this isn't too egregious of an issue. And hey, if male celebrities can keep playing younger roles well into their older years, then so can Ginger Rogers!
Finally, the French Riviera is a pretty location to be set in, even if the black-and-white nature hampers it a bit.
Beautiful Stranger isn't really worth watching, even for the actors. One the other hand, you have to watch this for the actors! Quite a paradox. How about this. If you're trying to watch the entire filmographies of both Ginger Rogers and Herbert Lom (good luck!), save this for last, or close to last, depending on your levels of tolerance/tolerance levels regarding the latter Pink Panther sequels...