|French poster for Not as a Stranger, 1955. This poster is amazing, and much cooler than the English language posters.|
|Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum, and Olivia de Havilland in Not as a Stranger. From what I've read Sinatra and Mitchum had a good time partying together off the set. But they look like such serious medical students!|
|Olivia de Havilland and Robert Mitchum in Not as a Stranger.|
Stanley Kramer first made his name in Hollywood as the producer behind hits like Champion, which made Kirk Douglas a star, Marlon Brando’s first movie The Men, and Fred Zinnemann’s iconic western High Noon, which won Gary Cooper his second Oscar. Kramer turned to directing in 1955, and his first film as a director was Not as a Stranger, starring Robert Mitchum, Olivia de Havilland, and Frank Sinatra. The cumbersomely titled film was based on a novel by Morton Thompson, which was a huge best seller in 1954. There’s also a cumbersomely worded title song, which isn’t heard in the movie, but was released by Sinatra as a single. The lyric starts, “I think of you, my love/not as a stranger.” But Sinatra still sings it well, of course.
Not as a Stranger follows Lucas Marsh (Mitchum) as he navigates his way through medical school and becomes a doctor in a small town. Lucas is idealistic and stubborn, unlike his friend, fellow medical student Alfred (Sinatra) who just wants to make money and drive a flashy car. When Lucas learns that Swedish nurse Kristina Hedvigson (de Havilland) has a crush on him, he is initially disinterested until he learns that she has saved up enough money to help bankroll him through medical school. Lucas then starts dating Christina and marries her. The film follows Lucas to the small town he and Christina settle in. Because he never really loved Christina, Lucas starts a relationship with Harriet Lang, a rich widow in town (Gloria Grahame). Lucas eventually sees how selfish he’s become, breaks things off with Harriet, and returns to Kristina, who still loves him.
Not as a Stranger is a good film, but it has some faults. With a running time of 135 minutes, the movie is too long. It’s almost two separate movies, as the first part tells the story of Lucas getting through medical school, and the second tells the story of Lucas being a young doctor in a small town. Some judicious editing might have improved the pacing of the film. The second major problem with the movie is that all three leads are way too old for their parts. Mitchum and Sinatra look like the oldest medical students ever. These roles were probably meant for actors under 30, and Mitchum, Sinatra, and de Havilland were all in their late 30’s when the film was made.
Mitchum gives a good performance as the selfish Lucas. A more intense actor like Montgomery Clift might have done it better and given Lucas more of an edge, but Mitchum is just fine. There were plenty of reasons that female fans of Mitchum’s would enjoy the movie, as he’s on screen just about the whole time, and he has a couple of opportunities to remove his shirt and show off his muscular physique. As I’ve written about Mitchum before, he had some odd features, with his deeply hooded eyes, broken nose, and very broad shoulders. But Mitchum had an undeniable magnetism and charisma on the screen. Sinatra turns in an excellent supporting performance as Alfred, and his scenes are evidence of what a superb actor he was. De Havilland does the best she can with her role, but her Swedish/Minnesotan accent, and dyed blonde hair, are cringe-worthy. The role of Kristina is a rather thankless part, as it just requires someone to be sweet and overly devoted to Lucas.
The supporting cast of Not as a Stranger is excellent, and there are many familiar faces, from Lee Marvin as a fellow medical student, Broderick Crawford as a doctor at the medical school, Lon Chaney Jr. as Lucas’ alcoholic father, Harry Morgan doing his best Swedish accent as Oley, the husband of the family that Kristina lives with while she attends nursing school, and Gloria Grahame as the femme fatale Harriet Lang. Grahame is very believable as the rich and spoiled Harriet, and I sort of half expected Mitchum to run off with her and start a life of crime. Fun fact: Grahame’s sister married the actor John Mitchum, Robert Mitchum’s brother. Not so fun fact: Gloria Grahame married the film director Nicholas Ray in 1948. She later married his son Anthony Ray in 1960.
Stanley Kramer is best remembered today for his serious dramas that tackled important social issues like The Defiant Ones, On the Beach, (which I reviewed last year here) Inherit the Wind, Judgment at Nuremburg, Ship of Fools, and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Not as a Stranger isn’t quite as good as those films, but it’s still an enjoyable piece of mid-50’s melodrama.