The Strange One

by Phil Hall

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday June 17, 2009

Primarily remembered today as offering Ben Gazzara his film debut, The Strange One is a middling 1957 drama that is never quite as important as it would like to imagine itself to be.

Based on Calder Willingham's novel and play "End as a Man," the film repeatedly aims for psychologically emotional goals, but only occasionally hits the mark.

Set in a military college in the Deep South that bears more than a passing resemblance to The Citadel, the film offers Gazarra as a conspicuously mature cadet sergeant (the actor was 27 when the film was shot) with the unlikely moniker Jocko DeParis.

Jocko is obsessed with bringing down George Avery, the son of one of the school's top ranking officers.

Working with a sycophantic classmate and two unwilling freshman, Jocko manages to get Avery expelled under the phony charge of drunkenness. The remainder of the film is basically a morality tale where the cadets of the college slowly band together to bring revenge on Jocko.

"The Strange One" has its roots as an Actor's Studio project, and that shows with the overly intensive Method acting brought by the cast.

Nobody in the film behaves or speaks like a real person - the angst and tumult experienced throughout each scene resonates with overkill that may have appealed to Lee Strasberg but would baffle everyone else.

Gazzara, for whom the film should have been a star-building experience, is a monotonous and monochromatic presence - he never resonates with the malice that the film insists upon, which ultimately throws "The Strange One" off-balance.

The sole exception to the bad acting here is George Peppard, making his film debut with a convincing performance as the sincere cadet whose conscience helps to unravel Jocko's venality. His bad acting achievements came later, of course.

The film's marketing materials state this release restores previously censored scenes that suggested homosexuality within the all-male college.

However, it might have been helpful if the DVD offered some clue regarding which scenes were cut. A new scene, written for the film version, brings in a female character whose pay-for-play concept of romance leaves little to the imagination.

The DVD's special feature includes a brief interview with Gazzara, who insists that producer Sam Spiegel allowed the film to die at the box office by withholding promotional backing.

However, anyone familiar with Spiegel's notorious pursuit of the almighty dollar might find it highly peculiar for him to let any of his projects intentionally fail.

More likely, "The Strange One" bombed it just wasn't a very good film.

Phil Hall is the author of "The Greatest Bad Movies of All Time