LOVE FROM A STRANGER. United Artists, UK/US, 1937. Also released in the US as A Night of Terror. Ann Harding, Basil Rathbone, Binnie Hale, Bruce Seton, Jean Cadell, Bryan Powley, Joan Hickson. Based on the 1936 play of the same name by Frank Vosper, which in turn was based on the 1924 short story “Philomel Cottage,” written by Agatha Christie. Directed by Rowland V. Lee.

   Basil Rathbone used to turn out a fine line of cold-hearted seducers. As a cad supposedly irresistible to women, he was never completely convincing, but that, oddly, was part of his success: when the naive young heiress or wealthy widow fell for Rathbone’s icy charm, you just knew she was walking into a trap. They never seemed to learn, though, and a succession of films like Kind Lady (1935), Rio (’39) and The Mad Doctor (’41) found a variety of leading ladies suddenly-finding-too-late (or is it?) they were in the clutches of a serial killer murderous con man, or at best an insanely jealous spouse.

   Love from a Stranger is pretty typical of the lot, and fun to look at, with a script incorporating the talents of Agatha Christie (original story) Frank Vosper (stage play) and Francis Marion (screen adaptation.) under the steady hand of Rowland V. Lee. Heroine Anne Harding has barely learned she won the lottery before suave, mysterious Basil Rathbone turns up to sweep her off her feet and into a remote cottage, where he likes to spend hours in the cellar listening to “In the Hall of the Mountain King” on the gramophone while burning pictures of his new bride — a sure sign that this marriage is in trouble. More fruity stuff follows, but it’s played for such full-blooded theatricality as to make it rather enjoyable as the story moves to its predestined climax.

   That climax perhaps betrays a bit too much of the film’s stage origins: at the point to which all these things must come, where the heroine ls alone in the house with a killer and no hope of rescue, we suddenly get an awful lot of dialogue. Without revealing too much of the ending, I may say it goes something like this:

RATHBONE: “Well, my dear, something something something.”

HARDING: “No! Wait!”

RATHBONE: “Why should I?”

HARDING: “Because something something something!”

RATHBONE: “Something something?”

HARDING: “Yes! And something else!”

RATHBQNE: “You expect me to believe that?”


RATHBONE: “But if somethlng something, why not something?”

HARDING: “Because something!”

RATHBONE: ”A very pretty story, my dear, but I happen to know something something.”

HARDING: “I know you knew that. I was only something something until something something else something!”


   As you may have noticed, this is an awful lot of plot to carry around just by talking it out, and it gets a bit stagy after the first ten minutes or so. Still fun, though, in its own hammy way, and I have to say I liked this a lot.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson #40, September 2005.