|The Gaunt Stranger|
The Gaunt Stranger is based on a novel and play by Edgar Wallace.
Balcon's 1938 production, directed by Walter Forde, stars Sonnie Hale, Wilfrid Lawson,
Louise Henry, Alexander Knox, Patricia Roc, Peter Croft, Patrick Barr, John Longden,
George Merritt, Charles Eaton and Arthur Hambling.
The play was adapted for the screen by Sidney Gilliat, photographed by Ronald Neame and edited by Charles Saunders. Art direction was by O.F. Werndorff.
Crooked lawyer Maurice Meister's (Lawson) life is threatened by his ex-partner who is a master of disguise known as the Ringer. The police give him protection and place in his house the only man who can identify the Ringer - Sam Hackett (Hale) a small time crook. Despite the best efforts of Inspector Wembury (Barr), Dr Lomond (Knox) the police psychologist and Australian detective Inspector Bliss (Longden) Meister is murdered and the Ringer gets away.
This is an excellent crime story with lots of suspects and even a secret passage. The atmosphere is brooding, the sets are darkly lit, the music is menacing. The opening shot pans through Meister's house which seems large, airy and spacious, towards the main character who is playing the piano, yet when the threat of death is made the rooms seem cluttered and claustrophobic, the set design and lighting predate classic noir films by several years but all the visual elements are in place here. The script is, however, very much of the 30s.
The comedy is provided by Hale as Sam Hackett whose cockney thief wisecracks his way through the film.
Sub-plots include a prospective love affair between Meister's secretary Mary (Roc) and Inspector
Wembury (Barr) but this seems to have been drastically edited as there are loose ends which aren't
tied up. Mary's brother John (Croft) recently released from prison is set up by Meister and is also left
without a satisfactory ending to his tale. The Ringer's wife Cora Ann (Henry), perhaps the
weakest of a fine cast, weaves in and out of the plot for no obvious reason until the end of
At 73 minutes the action is tightly packed, but one wonders what ended up on the cutting room floor - and why.
Released November 1938