I See a Dark Stranger was released in the U.S. as The Adventuress, which is why I couldn’t find it in my movie references. I finally found praise from Leonard Maltin and only mild dislike from the notoriously picky Pauline Kael.
Whatever you call it, Home Vision Entertainment (HVe) is releasing it on DVD for the first time ever.
Down with the English
- Theatrical trailer
- Liner notes
Deborah Kerr stars as Bridie Quilty, an Irish lass just coming of age. She’s not interested in boys, however. She only wants to follow in her father’s footsteps and fight against the English, who denied the Irish their independence. Satan is almost as bad as Oliver Cromwell in her family’s history book.
She leaves home for Dublin, where her only contact to the IRA won’t lift a finger to help her join. She storms off in search of other ways to fight the English. She ends up working as a spy, for another spy. Using her feminine wiles, she keeps Harry (Trevor Howard) occupied for an afternoon. She doesn’t know how this will help the cause against Britain, but at least she has her foot in the door.
But I See a Dark Stranger is set during World War II. The spies fighting the English aren’t the Irish, but the Nazis. Without realizing it, Bridie finds herself in a plot to steal key information about the coming invasion of France by the Allies.
A Lighthearted Comedy Thriller?
As promised by the DVD sleeve, I See a Dark Stranger is an odd mix of Hitchcockian thriller and lighthearted comedy. Amid the deadly serious spy game are romantic misunderstandings and a funeral procession that devolves into a comedic chase scene. Such a mix seems doomed to fail, but I See a Dark Stranger succeeds.
It works because Bridie is naive. If she weren’t naive, the film couldn’t plausibly mix its comedy with suspense. Unfortunately, that means the movie condescends to her, and in some respect, to all women. It’s a “woman spy” joke on a par with “women driver” jokes.
But because the film has a light touch and the a British self-deprecating sense of humor, it never feels like the filmmakers are making fun of Bridie. They’re laughing with her, and not at her. Besides, Bridie is a strong woman, and when the chips are down, she proves as valuable as any patriotic spy.
Picture and Sound
HVe’s DVD looks very good, but it’s not impeccably clean. opening scene features a zoom in to Bridie’s father’s face. The tonal range and picture quality are outstanding. I actually had to rewind to hear the dialogue because I was too focused on the quality of the picture.
But elsewhere, there are dropped frames, and there is a sequence two-thirds of the way in with bad vertical scratches. Still, for a film that is almost sixty years old, there is very little to complain about.
The monaural soundtrack is clear and unremarkable.
There are very few extras on this DVD. One might think reviving such a lost film would deserve more fanfare and hype, but all that’s included on the disc is the campy original trailer.
There is also a short essay in the liner notes written by writer/producer Richard Maynard in 2002. The essay is too short for much insight, but he does explain the film’s odd mix of genres: “STRANGER was a post Second World War picture set during the war, but joyfully celebrating the fact that ‘the damn thing was over and done with.’”
If HVe’s sister label Criterion had released this DVD under their banner, there would be more extra features and greater discussion about the film’s importance.
But perhaps I See a Dark Stranger is better presented as a humble offering. The film isn’t a masterpiece; it is merely a lot of fun. HVe made sure it looked and sounded good and gave it a chance with a new audience. And that’s enough.