STRANGE ONE, THE(director: Jack Garfein; screenwriters: Calder Willingham/based on his novel and play, End as a Man; cinematographer: Burnett Guffey; editor: Sidney Katz; music: Kenyon Hopkins; cast: Ben Gazzara (Jocko De Paris), Pat Hingle (Harold Koble), Peter Mark Richman (Cadet Col. Corger), Arthur Storch (Simmons), Paul Richards (Perrin ‘Cockroach’ McKee), Larry Gates (Maj. Avery), Clifton James (Col. Ramsey), Geoffrey Horne (Georgie Avery), James Olson (Roger Gatt), Julie Wilson (Rosebud), George Peppard (Robert Marquales); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam Spiegel; Columbia TriStar; 1957)
“Though the homosexual subtext was daring for the 1950s, the film is much softer than the play.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The Strange One, a film that went against the grain of the usual Hollywood fare, is based on Calder Willingham’s novel and play “End As a Man.” The play depicted the dehumanization of young men who were shielded by the existing “code of honor” at a Southern military school. The film is a forward psychological drama depicting sadism that is veiled with the hint of an undercurrent of homosexuality rampant in the school, but leaving out most of what made the novel and play worthy. The school functions more or less like a prison. Though the homosexual subtext was daring for the 1950s, the film is much softer than the play. It’s apparent that the Production Code censored it, despite producer Sam Spiegel’s attempts to get around the censors with some cuts. Another reason for the film’s failure is that the director, Jack Garfein, a former assistant to Elia Kazan, couldn’t get along with the intrusive producer and one day just kicked him off the set. Spiegel then sabotaged his own film, as he failed to promote it and it did a weak box office.
What makes this film unique, is that it was filmed almost entirely by a cast and technicians from The Actors’ Studio, New York. It features the film debuts of Ben Gazzara, George Peppard and Julie Wilson.
The Southern Military College features the psychotic, brutish, trouble-making upper-classman Jocko de Paris (Ben Gazzara) and his none-too-bright Southern sidekick Harold Koble (Pat Hingle). They get their jollies by intimidating first-year men. The seniors amuse themselves harassing freshmen roommates, the cowardly northerner Simmons (Arthur Storch) and the resolute Robert Marquales (George Peppard). The contemptible dimwitted football star Roger Gatt (James Olson) is invited by the senior cadets to play cards with the freshmen. It’s part of Jocko’s madcap scheme to get even with Major Avery (Larry Gates), for the schoolmaster once disciplining him. Simmons acts as bartender and gets Gatt drunk, and once drunk he becomes nasty. Jocko provokes him into beating Simmons with a broom. In the next room, Avery’s cadet son (Geoffrey Horne) hears the cries and alerts his schoolmaster father. When the major reaches the room, he only finds the boys sound asleep. This makes Avery’s son look like a liar. After his father leaves, George enters the room and is badly beaten by Roger and Jocko and liquor is forced down him with a rubber tube when he’s unconscious, and afterwards he’s dumped outside in the courtyard by a tree. Colonel Cliff Ramsey (Clifton James), the officer in charge investigates. He doesn’t buy Jocko’s version that George was drunk, but his hands are tied because the freshman cadets are too wormy to tell the truth. It all leads to how the boys take it on their own to get even with Jocko and show him in a cowardly light; it’s even hinted that Jocko might be fighting his own homosexual tendencies. There’s a sketchily drawn subplot of corrupting Simmons with a prostitute (Julie Wilson), as it weakly infers that the lad might have homosexual tendencies.
Too much has been left out of the pic for it to be effective, but it still remains a shocker for its time period.
REVIEWED ON 6/25/2007 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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