Not as a Stranger
Two Euro Movie
As the five-and-dime department store Woolworths – Woolies, as my mother always used to refer to it – was a reassuringly familiar fixture of my Australian childhood, I was a little taken aback to see a replica of it on the streets of Frankfurt in 2013. Little did I realise that Woolworth’s (note the apostrophe) was an American invention that persists in Germany today, even though the original company itself dissolved in 1997 – and that the Australian Woolworths (no apostrophe) had simply grabbed the un-trademarked name.
Usually, the DVD section of Woolworth’s wasn’t too enticing but, one fine day in 2015, close to my departure from Frankfurt, I spied large tables set up on the pavement out front, containing hundreds of cheap discs. I snapped up recognisable items by Claude Faraldo and Abel Ferrara, but also could not go past a mysterious item titled … und nichts als ein Fremder, starring Olivia de Havilland, Robert Mitchum, Gloria Grahame, Frank Sinatra, Broderick Crawford and Charles Bickford. What a cast! Oh, and directed by Stanley Kramer.
Hang on! Doesn’t every precocious cinephile dutifully teach herself or himself to hate Stanley Kramer, almost sight unseen? I remember viewing Inherit the Wind (1960) on TV when I was 15 and, with Sarris’ The American Cinema open before me, scribbling with distaste in my Film Diary (which I still possess) about how “uncinematic”, how “liberal” (in the bad sense), how unbearably boring it all was! And that Bible of the Cool Dudes, Time Out magazine, later told me that this two euro movie I purchased is a “typical well-meaning slice of Kramerkitsch” (how Germanic!), oh dear …
But I did dare watch Not as a Stranger, Kramer’s directorial debut hiding under that German translation (which adds three dots preceding the title!) – and what a peculiar, remarkable film it is.
To begin with, it is absolutely nothing like the “film noir drama” promised by Wonkypedia. Although it did, no doubt, help create a “young doctors in love” genre that subsequently became wildly prevalent in both cinema and TV as both (melo)drama and comedy.
However, the uncomfortable tone of proceedings here is closer to Eyes Wide Shut (1999) or The Knick (2014-2015) territory: the bodies of its heroes and heroines, in neurosis, in lust, in addiction, even in death, mingle weirdly with all those unconscious or writhing patients lying waiting on stretchers and on operating tables …
Adapted from Morton Thompson’s popular (now forgotten) novel of the previous year, the dramaturgy here is modern in its unusual emphases and temps morts, much more like Nicholas Ray or John Cassavetes (inner cinephile voice: hey, didn’t SK as producer butcher A Child is Waiting in 1963?) than anything I would today consider Stodgy Old Hollywood Classicism – whatever that really is, if it even exists.
Above all, the film boasts a sex scene that is out of this world – and takes us right into a sublime confusion of human and animal realms. It arrives almost 100 minutes in (it’s a long movie), as the good doctor Mitchum observes two horses, safely inside their separate, gated barns and fences, hurling out their mating cries of longing for each other. Sultry Gloria Grahame (as Harriet Lang) emerges from her house, waiting for Bob (as Lucas Marsh).
These human creatures exchange deep looks. Then Bob walks over to open the gate for the eager guy-horse (which immediately, appreciatively bolts) before grabbing Gloria and pulling her into a delirious close-up frame that is shaky, a bit off-centre and out-of-focus all at once! Dissolve. As the song says: wild horses couldn’t drag me away from this two Euro DVD.
Self-critique: do I need to re-watch Inherit the Wind now, and explore the entire, unsung oeuvre of Stanley Kramer? Maybe …
Note: An audiovisual essay incorporating the scene described above, “Sex Approaches” by Cristina Álvarez López & Adrian Martin, will be published online by de Filmkrant in our series The Thinking Machine during October 2020. Check https://vimeo.com/filmkrant
© Adrian Martin June 2016