Color, 1967, 103 mins. 46 secs. / 93 mins. 49 secs.
Directed by Pierre Rouve
Starring James Mason, Geraldine Chaplin, Bobby Darin, Paul Bertoya, Ian Ogilvy
BFI (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Kino Lorber (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
The fad for all things Swinging London produced an astonishing number of films in a short period of time in the late '60s (about three years), with a few films scoring direct hits like Blow-up and Alfie while countless others were quickly forgotten. Interestingly, James Mason starred in two of the most interesting ones, with Georgy Girl becoming a sizable hit and the colorful, eccentric Stranger in the House from a year later being mostly forgotten. It didn't help that the film was shorn of ten minutes and released under the odd title Cop-Out in the U.S., but its U.K. DVD and Blu-ray premiere in its full version from the BFI should hopefully give it a higher profile.
Adapted from a novel by legendary French crime writer Georges Simenon (previously filmed in 1942 by Henri Decoin), the tale pivots around English barrister John Sawyer (Mason), who's been on a downslide after losing his wife and finding himself increasingly detached from his daughter, Angela (Chaplin). Consumed by self-doubt and a penchant for the bottle, he can't understand his daughter's desire to hang out with the local party crowd and her choice of boyfriend, Greek immigrant Jo (Bertoya), who becomes the prime suspect in a murder that occurs right under John's nose. With one last chance to do right by his daughter, John must find a way to get to the bottom of the mystery before losing her forever.
Featuring an unexpected turn by Bobby Darin as a sleazy manipulator and a young turn by Ian Ogilvy that would make this a perfect co-feature with Michael Reeves' The Sorcerers, Stranger in the House is a fascinating attempt to graft a pop art sensibility onto what remains at heart a drawing room mystery with touches of melodrama. The film was a rare directorial effort for Blow-up executive producer Pierre Rouve (who did similar double duties on his next and last film, Diamonds for Breakfast), and he indulges in plenty of colorful youth-friendly imagery that pushes very close to the edge of the cartoony approach seen in later, last gasp mod films like Dracula A.D. 1972. Fortunately Mason manages to keep it all grounded with a typically grounded and committed performance that makes you invested in his mission, which is something of a feat given that Chaplin - a talented but extremely aloof presence - is a less than sympathetic symbol of the younger generation. The soundtrack also includes some trappings of the period including a bit of The Animals, though it isn't quite the musical groove fest you might expect.
As mentioned above, this was released in condensed form in the U.S. as Cop-Out, the version released on Blu-ray and DVD by Kino Lorber in 2018 with the sole extras including the trailer and a few other bonus unrelated ones. The BFI edition (as part of its intermittent and absolutely essential Flipside series) from 2019 is definitely the way to go as it features the uncut version with a superior 1.66:1 transfer from better elements with more image info in the frame; the LPCM English mono track (with optional English subtitles) is also excellent. The film still looks a faded and on the pink side presumably due to the ravages of age, but this is easily the preferable option out there right now. A new audio commentary with Flipside co-founders Vic Pratt and William Fowler is recommended as well with a conversation that covers the source novel, Rouve and his role in the London film scene, the various character actors on view throughout, the criticisms leveled against it in some quarters (with Ogilvy calling it too trendy), and the backgrounds of the major players. A third audio option is a good-natured chat with Mason from 1981 at the National Film Theater, kicking off with an unexpected salute to Bill Forsyth and a discussion of the state of international cinema (very, very different from where we are now) before launching into an extensive 86-minute discussion of his career including highlights like 20,000 Leagues under the Sea and anecdotes about filmmakers like John Huston and Carol Reed ("my favorite film director"). A late segue into A Star Is Born, the Oscars, and Judy Garland is quite fascinating and rather sweet, too. The video extras include two nods to the mod trappings of the main feature courtesy of the wild 1966 short film G.G. Passion (24m17s) by David Bailey, a Who Are You, Polly Maggoo?-style B&W depiction of a singer drifting through trippy encounters including an appearance by a young, miscredited Caroline Munro, and a nutty 2-minute push for hip psychedelic club kids to drink coffee. The film's Southampton setting is reflected in additional extras, an early 20th century "Tram Journey through Southamptom" (1m46s), a glimpse of a famous related figure with "Charlie Chaplin Sails from Southampton (46 secs.) from 1921, and a frenzy of industrial port coverage in 1964's "Southampton Docks" (23m46s). The U.K. theatrical trailer is also included, while the packaging includes an Illustrated insert booklet featuring new essays by Jonathan Rigby, Omer Ali and Antion Vikram Meredith, a.k.a. The Animals' Vic Briggs.
Reviewed on March 15, 2019.