A Strange Adventure (1956) Blu-ray Review: An Unremarkable Thriller

While the cliffhanger serial formula Republic Pictures would be so well remembered for had already been extinct by the time they cranked out the aptly-titled ‒ and noticeably cheap ‒ A Strange Adventure in 1956, I think it’s safe to say the spirit of the ol’ chapterplay was still alive and kickin’ in this production. Helmed by ace serial director William Witney (The Adventures of Captain Marvel), this lukewarm hard-boiled thriller from writer Houston Branch (Mr. Wong, Detective) opens with Ben Cooper (as one very grown-up teenager) getting hooked on Marla English (The She-Creature).

Alas, Marla is one of them femme fatales Ben’s mum never bothered to warn him about, and the poor dolt gets sucked into a single-threaded web of lies and deceit which even Helen Keller would see coming. Much to Ben’s chagrin, Marla is joined by a pair of dangerous gentlemen: a psychotic Jan Merlin (The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre), and his congested colleague, as played by a young Nick Adams (Godzilla vs Monster Zero). Soon enough, the trio of hoods have conned the naive young’un into using his customized hot rod as a mode of transportation for what could very well be the dullest armored car heist in film history.

Eventually, after a heap of unnecessary moments featuring dubious dialogue, perplexing editing, and oft-questionable acting, the gangsters take their hostage into the snowy hills of Southern California, where they meet top-billed actress Joan Evans (TV’s Zorro) and her on-screen brother, Peter Miller (Forbidden Planet). They take them hostage, too, making for one of the most laissez-faire “people held against their will in an isolated mountain cabin by trigger-happy baddies” situations ever. Though the motif may have made for A Strange Adventure in 1956, anyone who has seen a late-night cable-TV thriller from the ’90s will know what to expect here.

But of course, those very flaws ‒ along with Witney’s strangely light-hearted approach to the subject, an earnest early performance by Nick Adams (who makes for one of the coolest henchmen ever, I must say) such as the hilariously awful conclusion where absolutely nothing receives any sort of satisfactory wrap-up whatsoever ‒ are what will ultimately draw classic movie buffs to A Strange Adventure. Hidden away in the Paramount vaults for years, this 70-minute thriller from Republic Pictures has come to tickle and tease prospective viewers once again thanks to the much-appreciated filmic salvage operations from the folks at Kino Lorber Studio Classics.

Mastered in 4K for this release from the original camera negative (mind you, a complete print of London After Midnight has still yet to be discovered), A Strange Adventure arrives on Blu-ray in an MPEG-4 AVC 1080p encode from Kino Lorber. Presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, the picture quality on this release is, quite frankly, stunning. In fact, the transfer here is so fine in detail and utterly gorgeous, making those brief (but beautiful) moments where Marla English’s cleavage receives some equally ample screen time all the more enjoyable. Aurally, A Strange Adventure packs a DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono soundtrack, which is just as perfect (for what little it is, that is).

Although it really isn’t the sort of title you’d expect to sport an audio commentary (it won’t be declared as a culturally or historically significant movie any time in the near future, I’m sure), the powers-that-be at Kino Lorber have nevertheless added one for this release. In this instance, we are treated to an informative (if somewhat dry) track by historian Toby Roan, who is briefly joined by director William Witney’s son, Jay Dee Witney. A quartet of bonus trailers for other Kino Lorber Studio Classics titles conclude the outstanding preservation/presentation of this forgotten low-budget crime flick, available via this modestly-priced Blu-ray release.

Definitely worth a look to classic heist and film noir enthusiasts, and any fans of the film’s many television and B-movie stars.

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Luigi Bastardo

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