Friday, 18 March 2016

Love From a Stranger

A review of Love From a Stranger, starring Sylvia Sidney and John Hodiak, for the Past Offences 1947 challenge. It is loosely based on Agatha Christie's story Philomel Cottage.

The 1938 version starred Basil Rathbone and was set in the present. This version is set for some reason in 1905. Cecily Harrington is a young woman living in London and sharing a flat with her aunt and a friend. They don't have much money (a small income from inheritances - in the story and the 1938 version she works in an office). Then one day she wins the Calcutta Sweepstake and the trio decide to let their flat and travel... A very charming man turns up to view the flat just as Cecily is unpacking her latest purchases - over the top hats and evening wear of the kind she's never been able to afford, and a vulgar feather fan.

In 1947, the period of this film was nearly 50 years ago, and modern people became quite fascinated by it, copying its fashions and decor. In fact, the clothes and interiors are the best thing about this film. A lot of the stuff must still have been around, as people changed their houses less (or couldn't afford to), and people in the 30s and 40s often lived surrounded by Victorian tat. We get a good look at Cecily's flat - full of furniture and china and ornaments.

Of course she junks her worthy boyfriend and marries the charming "Manuel Cortez". They move to a perfect cottage in the country - more ornaments and a convincing Victorian kitchen with oil lamps and a Welsh dresser. It is in "Biddiford", Devon, where huge waves constantly crash into the rocky shore. A brief glimpse of the village reveals that Biddiford is actually in... Belgium? Amusing West Country rustics are a bore in any film, but here they are particularly tedious, and their Mummerzet accents more than usually weird. Anita Sharp-Bolster, though, is good as the rather dim maid, Ethel. (Played in the 1938 version by Joan Hickson.) Ann Richards is excellent as the best friend, and looks lovely in the Edwardian costumes, though her English accent is a bit careful.

Anyway, back to the plot...

Unfortunately we know from the start that Cortez is a serial wife killer. Cecily slowly works it out, but her discoveries are very slow and clunky. Cortez leaves evidence strewn around and jokes about being a Bluebeard and being fascinated by criminology. And he keeps disappearing down to the cellar to perform "chemical experiments"! The dialogue (not Christie's) is pedestrian and expository. But the moment when she explores the cellar and discovers her best brooch in a box of unfamiliar jewellery is quite chilling, as is their tense "last supper", with Cecily babbling nervously about cold ham and salad. There's an attempt at Christie's resolution of the plot, but then the cavalry come thundering into view.

This last scene is much more dramatic in the 1938 version, using Christie's plot device of... Read Philomel Cottage if you want to know how to escape from a serial killer.

More Agatha Christie here.


  1. It's not a typical Christie, but there's some deep archetypal satisfaction in it that makes it live forever. I'm sure most people couldn't name it, or ID it as Christie if they did, but it goes on and on. There was a play too, and I think a TV version. It's such a fairytale, but it's moving towards the Angela Carters...

  2. Bluebeard! In the original story, the girl gets a message to her rescuers in a particularly ingenious way, then stalls for time... Well, what would you expect from AC?