Friday, September 25, 2020

THE 7TH ANNUAL RULE BRITANNIA BLOGATHON: I See a Dark Stranger, 1946


Terence Towles Canote at A Shroud of Thoughts is hosting his 7th Annual Rule Britannia Blogathon on September 25, 26, and 27. It is always an informative and entertaining blogathon event in which I am pleased to participate this year with a look at I See a Dark Stranger. Enjoy the articles linked HERE.


Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder, as a writing, producing, and directing team gave us dozens of films beginning with the screenplay for The Lady Vanishes, through the Inspector Hornleigh series, Will Hay comedies, Night Train to MunichGreen for Danger, The Belles of St. Trinian's, The Happiest Days of Your Life, etc.


For many of us, they presented the best of British humour or the image we have of such humour. Humour in the face of adversity and absurdity, and the ready wit to which we would like to claim ownership. I See a Dark Stranger was the first film produced under their company, Individual Pictures with Frank Launder directing from the screenplay by himself, Sidney Gilliat, and Wolfgang Wilhelm.

Deborah Kerr as Bridie Quilty

Bridie: "I'm 21; I'm me own mistress."
First Irishwoman: "That's an occupation that could change hands overnight."

Deborah Kerr stars as Bridie Quilty. Raised in a small village in the west of Ireland, Bridie took to heart her father's eloquent and frequent retelling of his feats in the Easter uprising of 1916. The people of the village listen with awe to the feats of storytelling, taking it as just that, while Bridie's heart is filled with pride for her brave father and hatred toward the English. She plans to follow in his footsteps as soon as she is of age, and on her 21st birthday, she travels London looking for a way to join the Irish Republican Army.

The Second World War is raging and brings all sorts of disparate people together. Bridie falls in with some Nazis, about whom she hasn't given much thought except that they are keeping the English busy with some other war. She was stymied in her plans to join the IRA, so Bridie is only too happy to assist these friends by virtue of being enemies of her enemy.


The town of Wynbridge Vale has a new worker at the pub and the attractive Irish girl has quite an appeal for the fellows at the local Army barracks. Also, the statue of Oliver Cromwell in the centre of town was vandalized. Something of that nature has never occurred previously. Could the arrival in town of Bridie be connected to the vandalism?

A Nazi spy is being held in a nearby prison and his compatriots must engineer a break-out to discover important information from the spy, or at the very least the whereabouts of the information. Bridie has been helpful in getting the soldiers to talk since her sojourn at the pub.

A young officer on leave checks into the pub/hotel and her Nazi friends have identified Davd Baynes played by Trevor Howard as an intelligence officer. They want to use his attraction to Bridie to keep him occupied. Bridie's handler, Mr. Miller played by Raymond Huntley informs Bridie of her new assignment to keep the officer occupied during the planned escape, and gets an argument from the headstrong girl.

Deborah Kerr as Bridie Quilty, Trevor Howard as David Bayne

Bridie: "You really mean you want me to throw myself at him like a --- I might have known this'd happen! I've half a mind to refuse. I'd never bargained for anything like this!"

It turns out that David is not the intelligence officer the Nazis assumed. He is a scholarly sort of chap who is falling for our Bridie. Meanwhile, the spy is extricated from his captors only to be shot. Also shot is Miller who passes on information to Bridie regarding a certain notebook hidden in a parliament building on the Isle of Man. Before shuffling off this mortal coil, he also instructs Bridie to get rid of his body. Bridie, the corpse, and a wheelchair is a comic movie highlight. The consequence of her actions find Bridie sneaking out of town to complete her mission on the Isle of Man.

Garry Marsh as Capt. Goodhusband and Tom Macaulay as Lt. Spanwick

The escape and the not so easily gotten rid of corpse of her handler have given the authorities a lead on Bridie's whereabouts. They have tracked her to the Isle and military personnel is ordered to pick her up. Military personnel on the Isle of Man are Garry Marsh as Captain Goodhusband and Tom Macaulay as Lieutenant Spanwick. They are amusing characters with many witty exchanges of dialogue. Goodhusband is played as a typical twit and Spanwick, if not a man of action, a man of at least some brains. Trivia has it that Launder and Gilliat wanted their old friends and ours Charters and Caldicott for these roles, but Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne held out for more money than was considered reasonable by the newly independent producers.

Bridie obtains the hidden notebook and when she realizes it contains information vital to the coming invasion of Europe, she suddenly comes face to face with the enormity of her actions. The Nazis are not to be trusted! Wisely and bravely, she burns the item sought by the villains. Assisted by David, who has followed her, they attempt to escape together. David will not shirk his duty of turning Bridie in, but he will not let her deal with the Nazis alone.

It is a wild race across porous borders that sometimes finds our heroes ahead of the Nazis and the British Army, and sometimes with them. A satisfactory ending is awaiting the viewer without bogging us down in unnecessary red tape.

I See a Dark Stranger is threaded throughout with the mystery of French street signs on the Isle of Man and the overactive imagination of Bridie Quilty. The spy story is credibly presented with wry observations from characters in the most unassuming of circumstances. The ensemble is filled with familiar faces including Joan Hickson, Katie Johnson, David Tomlinson, Torin Thatcher, Albert Sharpe, and others I may have missed.

If you think you may be in the mood for a thoughtful and amusing thriller, with the occasional laugh-out-loud moment and a young leading actress of immense talent then I See a Dark Stranger is the movie for you.












36 comments:

  1. I wouldn’t have recognized that as Deborah Kerr, but I guess she’s just younger.

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    1. Deborah is 25 here. She made "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" (coming up as Caftan Woman's Choice for October) three years earlier. Her talent is astounding and the roles at this time, in "Blimp", "Vacation from Marriage", "Dark Stranger" and "Black Narcissus" present her versatility at its very best. I don't think Hollywood always knew what to do with her.

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  2. I had a few issues with the movie, but Deborah Kerr is always great. I also love Trevor Howard. It was fun seeing them together.

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    1. I imagine we would have seen the two paired again if Deborah had stayed in England.

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  3. Great choice of movie for the subject of this blogathon! I always appreciate so much the background info you give on films; I had no idea that Gilliat and Launder had such a diverse 'portfolio' of films. They seem like a more homegrown version of The Archers (Powell and Pressburger), with a definite style and look to their films, as well, as you note, a certain dry sense of humor. Night Train to Munich is one of my favorites. I also like I See A Dark Stranger, how it looks sympathetically yet humorously at its headstrong heroine and lets us see how she grows and changes. Both the script and Kerr's wonderful performance give a real sense of depth to Bridie's character.

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    1. Thanks. I also appreciate your insights on the movies and my point of view. To call Bridie a "character" just about covers it! A most focused young woman.

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  4. DEBORAH KERR was nominated for six ACADEMY AWARDS but never won. For which movie would you give Deborah the OSCAR? (She later received the special HONORARY ACADEMY AWARD.)

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    1. My first thought was The Innocents, but she wasn't even nominated for that performance. She was nominated in the same year for The Sundowners. That is a favourite film of mine, so The Sundowners it is.

      What's your choice?

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  5. I've been watching more British films made during/after WWII that are about the war, but have yet to see this one. I think it could be a new favourite!

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    1. I wouldn't be a bit surprised. It's a unique story and winningly presented.

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  6. I'm very fond of Launder and Gilliat. I love their comedies, but I think I like these comedy-thrillers most of all. So it's a bit of a shame that they stopped making them. I would put this one ahead of State Secret, although it's not as good as Green for Danger (but what is?).

    There's a nice supporting cast in this one too, and an unusually good role for Raymond Huntley. You don't usually see him as outright villains like this. And the first time I saw the two army officers I thought "This must have been written for Radford and Wayne!". Still, it does make a change, they were becoming very familiar by this time in these type of roles.

    It's a little strange when you're watching a film and you can suddenly hear another actor saying the lines, and you realise it was probably intended for them in the first place. I had the same sensation watching Gregory Peck in Arabesque, thinking "This part has got Cary Grant written all over it!"

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    1. Indeed, few things in life are as good as Green for Danger.

      You make a good point about Charters and Caldicott may have been becoming overly familiar at this point. I certainly enjoy Marsh and Macauley.

      I know what you mean about the voices in your head. Apparently, we all get them. I read recently that while filming North by Northwest Grant told Hitch that he felt it should be David Niven!

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    2. David Niven! I can't decide if that's a good idea or a terrible one. I suppose it might work ...

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    3. It's rather amusing to think of Cary Grant looking at the role that way.

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  7. I have only seen DEBORAH KERR in a few movies. I would have to pick FROM HERE TO ETERNITY for her OSCAR. PHILIP OBER played her neglectful husband in that movie. Ober was married at that time to VIVIAN VANCE. They were married from 1941 to 1959. I LOVE LUCY(with Vivian as ETHEL MERTZ) ran from 1951 to 1957 so she was MRS. PHILIP OBER that entire time.

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    1. Deborah certainly gave an award worthy performance as Karen.

      Ober is one of those actors we see everywhere. My first thought when his name is mentioned is getting the knife in his back at the U.N. in North by Northwest.

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  8. Hi there, this does sound another one for my to watch list thanks to your post and it would be nice to see Kerr in an early role too. Thanks for highlighting this film.

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    1. I think you will get a kick out of the movie, and you'll certainly be impressed by Deborah.

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  9. Another example of my theory that statues really only exist to be either vandalized or for pigeons to crap on :)

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    1. I can see no other purpose other than they keep sculptors busy. Who knows what mischief they might get up to otherwise!

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  10. Wow, I'm totally there. "The Lady Vanishes" was great, so it would be interesting to see Gulliat's other stuff.

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  11. I saw DEBORAH KERR in MARRIAGE ON THE ROCKS(65)with FRANK SINATRA and DEAN MARTIN. In the movie Deborah and Frank play a married couple whose daughter is played by Frank's real-life daughter NANCY SINATRA. Nancy turned 80 earlier this year! Did you see this movie?

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    1. I saw a bit of it once, but haven't seen the entire movie.

      I remember a Nancy Sinatra variety special filmed in Las Vegas very fondly.

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  12. Gilliat & Launder? Deborah Kerr? Trevor Howard? Such marvellous movie people! I have to see this film!

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  13. Sidney Gilliat, Frank Launder, and Deborah Kerr? How could I not love this movie? Very nice review!

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    1. Thanks. I see no reason in the world why you won't love this movie.

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  14. A lovely review. Unfortunately, this is one of those movies which I've never caught all the way through. I usually discover it either at the middle, or when it's ending. Once I caught it when it was starting but I had to leave. I guess that's what DVDs are for. You've given me ample reasons to finally track down this one.

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    1. Ha! I have a few movies like that. It gives me a chance to pretend I am a theatre-goer of another era when I get to say "This is where I came in."

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  15. Former child actress DIANE MOUNTFORD is 72 today! She played an orphan(who is blind) on the first CHRISTMAS episode of BONANZA. Diane was really good on the show. She also did 3 eps of MY THREE SONS. She played a different character each time. (They were the color eps.) Diane did two eps of PERRY MASON.

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    1. I recall Diane Mountford as a teen on those Fedderson shows. Boy, that takes me back.

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  16. DIANE MOUNTFORD was in a GUNSMOKE episode(a black and white one). It was titled CALL ME DODIE. KATHLEEN NOLAN played Dodie. Diane and Kathleen played orphans. Kathleen turned 87 Sunday(Sept. 27)! She is best known for THE REAL MCCOYS. Kathleen guest starred on BEWITCHED. You may recall her ep of THE BIG VALLEY where she played LIBERTY, a woman that HEATH had been in love with when they were growing up in the mining camps. I mentioned before that MISS NOLAN was the first woman president of the SCREEN ACTORS GUILD. (PATTY DUKE was the second.)

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    1. Good to know Kathleen Nolan is still with us and hope she is doing well.

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  17. As a fan of both Deborah Kerr and Trevor Howard, I will definitely have to check out I See a Dark Stranger. It sounds very interesting! Anyway, thank you for taking part in the blogathon!

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    1. My pleasure. Thanks for hosting. There is a part of my brain already looking out for a selection for next year!

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