The Patricia Roc Filmography|
The Gaunt Stranger
aka The Phantom Strikes
CAPAD/Ealing Studios 1938 73mins B&W
Directed by: Walter Forde
Produced by: Michael and Samuel Balcon
Starring: Sonnie Hale, Wilfred Lawson, Patricia Roc
"The Gaunt Stranger" is a mystery thriller based on Edgar Wallace's novel "The Ringer".
The Ringer is a master criminal thought to have died some years previously in Sydney,
Australia. But when a well known criminal lawyer, Meister, of dubious repute (played wonderfully
by Wilfred Lawson) is threatened by someone claiming to be the Ringer the Police start
to get interested. All the more so when a funeral wreath arrives confirming the threat, having been
sent from a ship coming from Sydney. The Ringer it seems is alive and seeking revenge for the death of
his sister by suicide - which he blames on Meister. When the boat comes into dock the
Ringer's wife is on board but no sign of the Ringer. However, he is known to be a master of
disguise and suspicion soon grows that he is in the country and could be masquerading as
literally anyone. The story then revolves around events leading up to midnight, the time at which
The Ringer has promised that Meister will die.
Although this was Pat's second proper film appearance it was
the first that the public saw her in as it was released before
"The Rebel Son" which was bogged down with post production difficulties.
She plays her role well as the Secretary, Mary Lenley, for
Wilfred Lawson's character Meister. Although she is supporting cast
she does still get a reasonable amount of screen time and clearly this role
will have brought her to the attention of casting executives.
Sidney Gilliat was asked to write the script for this
adaptation (which was preceeded by a 1931 version and stage
adaptations). Reportedly he wasn't happy with the outcome
complaining that he felt the plot, required him to simply
string the audience along inventing incidents just to
maintain interest until the promised time (midnight) is reached.
Personally I can see why he felt this way and attention does
tend to waver at times despite Wilfred Lawson being a joy to
watch and Sonnie Hale's light comedy relief. Due to this formula
there is perhaps not too much to say about the film
However, despite the reservations of Gilliat, the film went down well
with the public who liked it's mixture of humour and
suspense. Presumably studio bosses felt Pat delivered a good
job in it too as she was subsequently cast in two further
Edgar Wallace adaptations for the screen; "The Mind of Mr
Reeder" and "The Missing People" both starring Will Fyffe.
Reportedly inferior to "The Gaunt Stranger" I've never come
across or seen either anywhere though they apparently still exist. Perhaps
one day they shall turn up.
All three of these films were typical British B pictures of the time with short
running lengths and low budgets. When I spoke to Pat in 2000 she mentioned that
at this time she was still learning her craft and was really accepting any work
she could get: 'You know, I learned my job by doing what you might call B
pictures. I think if you're in films you can only learn
film by filming. So I did it that way. I took anything
that came along at that time in order to learn. So there was
"The Mind of Mr. Reeder"... and then there was "Missing
Perhaps one of the most puzzling things about "The Gaunt Stranger" is where the
title comes from and what the thinking behind it was. People often ask me this.
There is no guant stranger in the film itself - so what does the title actually
mean in the context of the story? Does anyone know and care to enlighten us? Or was
it simply a title that sounded good and for contractual or other commercial reasons
they were unable to use the title of the original novel, "The Ringer"? Unfortunately
it was a question that didn't occur to me when I was discussing the film with Pat.
At the time of writing this movie isn't available anywhere in any format
as far as I'm aware. My viewing copy came from an ancient VHS tape.
Quality poor - but viewable.