Pierre Rouve (director)
BFI Flipside (studio)
25 February 2021 (released)
06 March 2019
BFI Flipside presents the unconventional thriller STRANGER IN THE HOUSE (1967), directed by Pierre Rouve and featuring James Mason, Geraldine Chaplin and Bobby Darin in the lead roles. The film is based on a novel by Georges Simenon (best known for this ‘Inspector Maigret’ books) and is in fact a remake of the 1942 movie Les inconnus dans la maison – directed by Henri Decoin.
Here, the story has been transferred to England and is set during the 'Swinging Sixties' - not the Swinging Sixties London but Winchester and Southampton respectively. The action kicks off in a Winchester beat club to the tune of ‘Ain’t That So’ by Eric Burdon & The Animals, and we are introduced to various colorful characters including the flash Desmond (Ian Ogilvy), Angela (Geraldine Chaplin) and their close circle of friends. Later on Angela returns home to the grand but somewhat delapitated house where her father John Sawyer (James Mason), a former barrister lives. The décor alone represents the generation gap for the vintage, Victorian-style décor of the house couldn’t be more in contrast with the psychedelic world of Angela’s pop & beat hangouts. Equally grandiose is John’s thirst for alcohol – a result of personal tragedies: his wife had left him ages ago and during one of John’s many booze-fuelled dream sequences it transpires that he may have been directly responsible for sentencing his brother to death. In short, John Sawyer is a broken and cynical man with a massive chip on his shoulder who finds solace only in classical music and the company of his dog. Oh, and copious amounts of alcohol!
Daughter Angela despises him while his sister (Moira Lister), who is married to the wealthy and pompous Colonel Flower (Clive Morton), is embarrassed by him… though their spoilt son Desmond loves hanging out with Angela and their mutual circle of friends. During another one of Angela and John’s frosty conversations a gun shot suddenly rings through the grand building and John discovers the dead body of a stranger lying in the guest room bed. He has never seen the young man before but Angela confesses to know him. The story then goes into flashback mode and we find out how American stowaway Barney Teale (Bobby Darin) entered the lives of Angela and her friends… when the clique secretly sneaked aboard an apparent ‘ghost ship’ (The Nothern Star) during strike action and started to frolic about, only to be suddenly confronted by an apparent ship’s stewart. Yes, the stewart is Barney but it becomes clear pretty darn quick that he is anything but… By his own admission he is a former wrestler though he could also be a criminal (he is in the novel). One thing for sure, he’s certainly a bit of a psychopath who says “Ain’t that so” a lot – thus echoing the theme song by The Animals. The friends then take Barney along to a derelict old theatre filled with props and film meorabilia – another of the gang’s favourite hangouts. More flashbacks follow and gradually we learn how Barney ended up dead in Angela Sawyer’s home and how her Greek-Cypriot boyfriend Jo Christoforides (Paul Bertoya) falls under suspicion of being the murderer (“Of course he is, he’s a foreigner!”).
Despite most of the evidence pointing at Jo, it would seem that Angela is pretty much the only one convinced of his innocence. Desperate she asks her Dad to take on the part of defence lawyer one more time though it must be said that intially, John Sawyer isn’t impressed by his daughter’s foreign boyfriend either. Of course, every good ‘whodunnit’ holds a twist in store and the end (or rather the reason for killing Barney) is not really foreseeable here, which makes things all the more interesting.
Some great location work around Winchester and the port of Southampton add nostalgia though there’s always an undercurrent of ‘old’ versus ‘modern’ which prevails throughout the film – not just in terms of a generation gap but also buildings and hangouts. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Mason carries the majority of the film with his performance as a tortured former barrister whose personal ghosts seem to haunt him 24/7. He receives ample and impressive support for Geraldine Chaplin and Ian Ogilvy while Bobby Darin – famous for his 1959 hit ‘Dream Lover’ - died only six years later (aged 37) from complications following a heart operation.
The Dual Format Edition contains generous bonus material, including the experimental short, G.G. Passion '(1966) with Chrissie Shrimpton and Caroline Munro (directed by star photographer David Bailey), the archive clip' Charlie Chaplin Sails from Southampton '(1921), Trailer, James Mason in Conversation, Infobook including notes by renownded author Jonathan Rigby, and more.