Two very accomplished films are in this week's DVD review column.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ben Gazzara several years ago when he appeared at CityStage in a one-man play on the life of Yogi Berra.
Even with a diminished vocal capacity Gazzara turned in a masterful performance that was compelling to this non-baseball fan.
That's why I was eager to see "The Stranger," released on DVD for the first time. It was Gazzara's first film role - in fact, he was the star of the film - and it's a fascinating look at a near pathological bully.
The title gives little indication of the film's story. Gazzara is Cadet Jocko DeParis, an upperclassman at a military college located somewhere in the deep South.
DeParis is a smooth talking, highly intelligent guy who has mastered how the college works. His latest exercise is to punish a faculty member who disciplined him by engineering the discharge of his son from the college. He does so in a way that implicates four other cadets who all realize that if any of them come forward they will all be discharged.
Shot in 1957, the film has a strong contemporary feel to it by implying visually the segregation of the time as well as noting in the dialogue the strong prejudice against anyone deemed "foreign" or "un-American."
The 100-minute film moves very quickly and the drama is compelling, as the young cadets must grapple with doing the right thing or saving themselves.
Some reviewers have noted a gay character in the film that provides another layer of social criticism. Paul E. Richards played a cadet nicknamed "Cockroach" by DeParis. Despite the abuse, Cockroach is drawn to DeParis and has based a novel on his exploits.
The film features other early performances by Pat Hingle, James Olson and George Peppard. Arthur Storch almost steals the show, though, as a freshman cadet who appears like Peter Lorre and is a pathological liar and coward.
Even when scene-stealers are on camera, "The Strange One" is always Gazzara's show. It's a fascinating film.
The extra for the disc is a new interview with Gazzara about the making of the film.
I'm not a big French film fan, so this title was positioned toward the bottom of the review pile, but I'm very glad I watched it. This murder mystery is a top-notch thriller that understands how to keep an audience on the edge of its seat.
Francois Cluzet plays Dr. Alexandre Beck, a successful pediatrician who has loved his wife since they were kids. She is brutally murdered and he is the prime suspect until the evidence pointed to a serial killer who is caught and convicted.
Eight years later he is still mourning her death and there is now new interest in the case when two bodies are discovered at the site of her killing. The police are now interested again in Beck, who is acting a tad suspiciously because he received an e-mail with a video from his long-dead wife.
Director Guillaume Canet wrote the screenplay based on the book of the same name by Harlan Coben and clearly Canet understands how a suspense film is supposed to work.
I think a reference to the work of Alfred Hitchcock is an appropriate compliment for this film. Canet doesn't try to copy Hitchcock's style, but the story of the unjustly accused hero is right out of the Hitchcock canon.
The film has an English soundtrack for those of you who are subtitled impaired, but as always I like hearing the inflections of actors even if I can't understand their language.
With solid performances, an involving plot and plenty of surprises, "Tell No One" should be at the top of your pile.
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