Not as a Stranger (1955) Blu-ray Review: Robert Mitchum, Sociopathic Surgeon

Kino Lorber brings us Stanley Kramer's first directorial effort starring Olivia de Havilland, Robert Mitchum, and Frank Sinatra.
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Any movie which conjures up the mental image of a motorcycle bound Lon Chaney Jr. going out in a drunken blaze of glory certainly deserves a special place in history. However, when that same movie also happens to star Olivia de Havilland, Robert Mitchum, and Frank Sinatra ‒ along with a first-rate supporting cast including Gloria Grahame, Broderick Crawford, Lee Marvin, Harry Morgan, and the aforementioned Mr. Chaney ‒ its significance in the world of film increases substantially. Now toss in the superb production values and social commentary filmmaker Stanley Kramer was (and still is) so well known for, and you can only have one movie on your hands, 1955's Not as a Stranger.

Indeed, Kramer was not a stranger to making a powerful motion picture, having previously produced such cinematic classics as High Noon, The Wild One, and The Caine Mutiny. But it wouldn't be until he helmed his big adaptation of Morton Thompson's best-selling 1954 novel Not as a Stranger, however, that Kramer would sit in the director's chair for the first time. And I think anyone who has ever enjoyed Kramer-directed masterpieces such as Judgment at Nuremberg or Guess Who's Coming to Dinner? (or even It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World) will agree with me that his move to playing both producer and director was a worthwhile one.

Here, under Kramer's direction, the great Robert Mitchum plays an aspiring medical student named Lucas Marsh. Though brilliant to the point where he consistently alienates his teachers and peers alike for calling out their flaws (and always being right, to boot), Marsh is also quite the sociopath. After his alcoholic father (Chaney, in a first rate minor role) flushes the family fortune down the tubes, Lucas ‒ facing a proper ousting from medical school due to insufficient funds ‒ takes advantage of a lonely aging nurse named Kris (Olivia de Havilland, playing a Swede), who, in all fairness, isn't the sharpest marble in the cookie jar. But she does have a substantial savings from years of being an old maid.

As Lucas rises within the field of medicine, his loveless relationship with Kris begins to go exactly as one would expect it to go, particularly once the pair move to a small town featuring a rich beautiful ‒ and younger ‒ widow, as played by femme fatale extraordinaire Gloria Grahame. Frank Sinatra, in the beginning of his second (established) career as a motion picture actor, delivers a fine supporting role as Mitchum's wealthy best friend and fellow doctor in the making. But two of the best parts in the film are filled by Broderick Crawford as Mitchum's heartfelt (but humorless) mentor, and Charles Bickford as the aging small town physician who tries to get poor Bob to behave less like a sociopath.

A lengthy (135 minutes) Oscar-nominated epic from United Artists, Not as a Stranger was one of the first films to show actual footage from an open-heart surgical operation. It may seem insignificant to contemporary audiences, who can see far more shocking things on YouTube alone, but it must have been quite the stomach-churner in '55. Personally, I can't help but wonder what the grant tally on the booze bill for this film was, considering the movie featured Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra, Lee Marvin, and regular drinking buddies Broderick Crawford and Lon Chaney, Jr. ‒ all of whom were known to tear it up. Myron McCormick, Jesse White, Mae Clarke, and the inimitable Whit Bissell also appear.

A major hit upon its initial release, Not as a Stranger has not exactly lived up to its title in the decades that have followed, becoming less known with each passing year (along with each new advance in the world of medicine), except for the occasional fool who mistakes it for film noir (I consider it "film blanc," since it has a much brighter outlook). Fortunately, fans of this film's dynamite cast can experience all the manipulative drama in full form thanks to this MPEG-4 AVC 1080p Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. Though grain and a few minor imperfections is somewhat noticeable throughout the 1.85:1 presentation, this is nevertheless quite a lovely transfer for a fairly forgotten flick.

Kino's DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono English audio track is an equally fine affair, and English (SDH) subtitles are included. Extras are rather limited for this now "niche" classic, but Kino Lorber has wisely filled in the gap between movie and trailers with a commentary by my brother from another mother, Troy Howarth. Armed with a near-infinite amount of information about the cast and crew (and a turkey recipe, too!), Mr. Howarth's commentary is just as good of a reason to purchase this disc as is the movie itself. Wrapping up the release are trailers for Not as a Stranger and four other Stanley Kramer productions: Inherit the Wind, Judgment at Nuremberg, On the Beach, and A Child is Waiting.

Whether it's the personal Stanley Kramer touch, the still-relevant message, great supporting cast, expert audio commentary by Troy Howarth, or the fact that you'll actually get to see Robert Mitchum emote for once in this movie, Not as a Stranger makes for grand classic "film blanc" viewing. It'll make a fine addition to your library of other Kramer and Mitchum titles.

Highly Recommended.

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