A woman’s weakness is a man’s opportunity.”
Carol Howard (Anne Harding) lives a boring life. To comfort herself she indulges in buying lottery tickets. Her boyfriend Ronnie Bruce (Bruce Seaton) belittles her daydream. One day she actually wins the French National Lottery. And she wins a lot. This puts a strain on her relationship with her boyfriend. His ego gets in the way. He doesn’t want to be supported by his wife. This results in their break-up.
Carol takes her friend Kate Meadows (Binnie Hale) with her when she goes to Paris to collect her winnings. On the ferry to France she runs into the debonair playboy Gerald Lovell (Basil Rathbone). He is rich and handsome and very charming. They had met previously when he came to view her flat on the pretense of renting it. Seeing him again was a surprise.
Being naïve it is easy for the slick con man to sweep her off her feet. In a whirlwind they get married. Ronnie is convinced that Gerald is after her money. He shows up in Paris to try to save her but he’s too late to stop things. Right away there are warning signs that something is not right, but Carol ignores the red flags. He spins tales. His fortune is tied up in a South American Bank. There’s a silly mix-up and he can’t access his funds, etc. etc. Carol has been catfished. They buy a house in Kent. Gerald takes over the cellar. No one is allowed to go down there. He says because of the dangerous chemicals he has for his photography hobby.
Gerald’s demeanor also begins to change. Before he was loving and attentive. Now he is quick tempered critical and impatient. Carol makes more excuses. He’s under stress and he suffers from trauma from being in the war. But things get worse. Gerald has a violent temper. He’s almost unstable. And he is starting to get scary. Really scary.
“Love from a Stranger” AKA “A Night of Terror” was released in 1937 and was directed by Rowland V. Lee. The film is British thriller based on a short story by Agatha Christie. The only reason I decided to watch this movie was to see Basil Rathbone in a role that was different than his usual. I’m not a big fan of the ‘woman in peril’ type film where the woman is stalked and/or terrorized. As I watched I found myself paying close attention to the performances of both Rathbone and Harding. They were both amazing. The movie is an absolute must see.
At first Carol is the naïve young woman who is in a dull life and is not very worldly. As her relationship with Gerald blossoms she still appears a little naïve and passive to Gerald’s manipulations. Even though Carol is subservient to Gerald, she is not stupid. There is intelligence and an inner strength that is not obvious until she is in the position where she needs to depend on both.
At first blush Gerald is everything a young woman would want in a husband; Attentive, loving, understanding. Appearing to have an illness from serving in the service adds a vulnerability that brings out the mother/nurse in Carol. It appears to us that his moods could be explained and he deserves the benefit of the doubt. You can actually see the turning point where Carol realizes that Gerald is not just angry or ill, bust is homicidally insane. You can see both the fear in her eyes and the insanity in his.
It’s almost as if they are both playing dual roles. Rathbone is playing the loving and caring Gerald and then the insane and murderous Gerald. Harding as is the naïve and attentive Carol and then as the shrewd and quick witted Carol.
The movie is definitely a hidden gem. For Rathbone fans, thriller fans, or anyone who just wants to see a great movie.