The Stranger


by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Although it was barely released to theaters and never made it to DVD at all, thus indicating that the studio which filmed it had just about abandoned it, The Stranger is an interesting little low-budget thriller. Bonnie Bedelia plays an amnesia victim who can remember only that she witnessed a triple homicide, and that she had an auto accident while trying to escape from the men who committed the murders. The head trauma from that very auto accident is the source of her amnesia. The police don't believe her story because there simply are no homicide victims anywhere nearby. A sympathetic psychiatrist is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery by coaxing the victim's memories back to the surface.

I know that amnesia is a movie cliche which you probably hate. I probably hate it more than you do because I've seen so many tens of thousands of movies, all too many of which rely on high-concept gimmicks like this. But I have learned one thing about movies in all these years - just about any premise, however thin and contrived, can result in a watchable movie if the execution is up to the challenge. Some of the best movies in our lifetimes have started with preposterous and/or high-concept ideas: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Inception, Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, Leon: the Professional, Memento (the ultimate amnesia movie), and so forth. What about great classics like It's a Wonderful Life and The Seventh Seal? Even the worst ideas can turn into great films. The Stranger is not a great film, by any means, but it's a surprisingly good one considering that nobody believed in it and history has forgotten it.

On the other hand, it's a film that requires a great deal of patience. The beginning of the film seems to feature some continuity problems, some sloppy mistakes (a woman running away from the baddies in high heels - in the middle of a muddy farm!), and some unforgivable cliches (black-and-white flashbacks in a color film). After the first ten minutes or so, I was cursing the bad luck that led me to yet another sloppy grade-B movie, but then the logic of the film started to kick in. Bedelia is, after all, an amnesia victim, and all of the irritating, illogical elements of the film occur within her hazy memories. By the end of the film, there is a satisfactory explanation for all of the elements of the film which annoyed me - even the black-and-white flashbacks!

The film is supposed to take place in a fictional American town named Plainville and is entirely in English, but was filmed entirely in Buenos Aires. Alfonso Aristarian of Argentina, the director of this film, never made a mark in the USA and you probably never heard of him, but he is quite well respected in the world of Spanish-language cinema. This particular film, while rated a respectable 6.0 at IMDb, is actually his lowest-rated effort.

(7.75) - A Place in the World (1992)
(7.65) - Common Ground (2002)
(7.54) - Time for Revenge (1981)
(7.47) - Martin (Hache) (1997)
(7.25) - Roma (2004)
(6.74) - Últimos días de la víctima (1982)
(6.59) - The Lion's Share (1978)
(6.59) - La ley de la frontera (1995)
(6.02) - The Stranger (1987)

His best film, A Place in the World, was nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, and several of the above films have earned him a long list of international awards.

Bonnie Bedelia, the star of The Stranger, is one of those women who always seemed to deserve a better career. You know who she is - Bruce Willis's wife in those Die Hard movies. She was a good enough actress (Golden Globe and Emmy nominations) with classical dance credentials, a beautiful face and a great chest. And she seemed to stay young forever (she was 41 in The Stranger, but looked young and fresh). Of course, she did have a solid career spanning more than four decades, and she's still working steadily today, but it seems in retrospect that her talent and beauty could have moved her up to the A-list, and it once seemed that she was headed in that direction. Bonnie is about the same age as Meryl Streep, but nobody knew who the hell Streep was in 1970, while Bedelia had already appeared in two acclaimed films: They Shoot Horses and Lovers and Other Strangers.  

What happened? Bonnie got married in 1969, started a family soon afterwards, and virtually dropped out of the industry in 1973. Because she concentrated on raising her kids, she made only one film between 1973 and 1983, thus essentially missing the critical years between ages 25 and 35. Meanwhile, at the end of that period, between 1978 and 1982, Streep emerged from obscurity to become the most acclaimed actress in Hollywood. Should that have been Bonnie? Maybe. Maybe not. Streep is, after all, a giant talent. What we do know for certain is that the ruling principle in Bedelia's career was "out of sight, out of mind." That long hiatus served to derail Bonnie from her track to stardom, and it proved impossible for her to get back on the express rails when she returned at age 35, despite a great comeback performance in Heart Like a Wheel.

(By the way, she was born Bonnie Culkin, and is Macaulay's aunt.)
Not currently available in Region 1 DVD


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5.8 IMDB summary (of 10)




Bonnie Bedelia does two brief topless scenes.



Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


For a film you never heard of with an extremely low budget, The Stranger is not bad at all!