The Intimate Stranger (1956)

In the difficult old tradition of American film noir directors, stars, writers and technicians fleeing the blacklists of the late 1940s and early 1950s, Joseph Losey made several decent British film noir movies, including The Intimate Stranger (1956), a mystery tale of deceit from the heart of the British film industry.

And likely when you see it, it will be called FINGER OF GUILT.

But have no fear, this was and remains the American title of this Losey lost noir, Losey who was working under the alias Alec C. Snowden, having as we have seen, fled The States in the midst of Red Terror.

Finger of Guilt or The Intimate Stranger, then, you may take your pick.

Losey was blacklisted in the United States at the time when he made this film, and with a number of other American directors and screenwriters, he had moved to Britain and began making films, disguising his real identity behind an alias. 1956 was that kind of year.

The screenplay was written by Howard Koch who had also been blacklisted, and wrote under the name Peter Howard. The film was made at Shepperton Studios, with Losey using as we have seen already, the non-noir handle and nom de guerre, Mr Incognito himself ... Alec C. Snowden. 

Losey also has a small cameo part in the film, playing a film director.

What's best about The Intimate Stranger is how suspenseful it becomes. Richard Baseheart plays a movie producer, although it hard to say how authentic he is at this. He has moved to England, like Koch and Losey, and has started a new life there. 

But this new life is threatened when he starts receiving intimate letters from a woman. This women, played by Mary Murphy, reminds him of a relationship they had some time ago but he genuinely has no knowledge of it.

The Heart . . . the very Basehart of British Cinema

The question therefore becomes: is he mentally or psychologically ill somehow, or is he entirely faking it, or is he the victim of an evil scheme?

All of this story builds well. It reminds one a little of the anonymous letters that are received in The Player, as the letters create a similar kind of edge, a distrust, a constant looking-over-the-shoulder, and the truthfully film noir element of the drama.

This was the best Newcastle noir in British cinema, until Get Carter came along at least

The Intimate Stranger or if you still will, Finger Of Guilt, begins life as a medical and marital drama, actually told in flashback by Basehart. 

Thereafter, and after a good amount of waiting and wondering,  The Intimate Stranger slowly moves into thriller-land, before culminating in a pretty exciting final twenty minutes on the studio set.

Because The Intimate Stranger was written and directed by two men blacklisted by Hollywood, Joseph Losey (The Prowler) and Howard Koch (Casablanca), the story could be read as a metaphor for what they endured. 

But the movie never becomes self-righteous in that fashion, and it's almost as if they lost interest in this angle, if it was ever planned that way. Most of the movie is filmed in a matter-of-fact almost televisual type of way, focusing on Basehart (find him in He Walked By Night - details below this post!), leaving the viewer guessing about Mary Murphy (who can be found here in The Desperate Hours). 

Mary Murphy is the thorough show-stealer here, and manages to come off with both simultaneously lying and telling the truth, shrugging of difficult questions with ease, and actually managing to taunt her mark much more than she may have even imagined. 

Basehart as the slowly unravelling movie producer eventually drinks a tankload of Irish whiskey, and then tries it on, rather roughly, and somewhat crudely. 

What works less well in The Intimate Stranger are the back stories concerning the movie industry itself. None of the excitement of In A Lonely Place persists here, and the plot line concerning the making of a film called Eclipse, is weak. We never find out much about this imaginary film, which is as well for reasons of timing, but it does make some of the procedural drama lack a certain drive.

The movie sets however come into their own at the climax, and over the last fifth of the action, which is set on the lot. Even today, a British film studio and lot is not nearly as exciting a prospect as one from Hollywood, although there is no real reason why.

Power photography of Mary Murphy

Clever how he actually uses the tools cinema, to nail the villain

Shouldn't really mock the fact that the showdown takes place on a movie set, especially after what Joseph Losey suffered at the hands of the marauding leftist-hunters ejecting the finest minds in noir out of America at the time. Shouldn't really be surprised that somewhere within the psychology of this rare film noir, is the burning ember of a memory of the place that Joseph Losey was ejected from. The cinema production factory. 

Here, yet, the studio makes for a terrific climax, and fight in the dark, using lights and screen and even props on a sound stage. 

Further on the plus side are some great location shots, creating atmosphere during a trip to Newcastle, and a scene of whiskey drinking in a pub there; further on the down side is the overly emphatic music, which seems far too much, far too much of the time.

British film noir wasn't quite the same creature as its American cousin, even when directed by an American, in this case Joseph Losey. There just don't always seem to be so many shadows in Britain, unless of course it's in Night and the City.

And there is almost always a British focus on drama, which replaces the urban underbelly that American film noir bares so effectively. It might just have been the case that the same scope of underbelly was not quite there in England. The figures of post-world-war-2 America are the haunted males found in the alleys, bars, and way fares of 1940s and 1950s USA.

In Britain, that same war was closer to hand, and people were desperate to forget it. You don't tend to find World War 2 referenced in British noir, nearly as much as it is in the same type of films from the 1940s and 1950s in the USA. 

Weirdly, part of Intimate Stranger appears to be set on a sound stage, filming a drama about World War 1; although the machine gun featured is probably an anachronism.

Then, there is the psychological aspect. These features were European, because of their origin, and North American by means of their adoption. However, even if it was touched upon, the British culture of the era did not have the same feel for Freudian ideas as did film noir, Stateside.

In the absence of this Freudian tapestry of drama and doom, British films often paper up the cracks in the mystery with melodrama - and that is what happens here. the Brits did make an artform of the troubled teenager movie, but for lack of those as well, The Intimate Stranger serves its thrills as hot as it can, amid the tos and fros of bourgeoise manners.  

HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948) - - superlative noir adventure.

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