Love from a Stranger
aka, A NIGHT OF TERROR. 1937

Director: Rowland V. Lee

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Carol Howard (Ann Harding) wins the lottery & immediately quits her awful job, in the suspense thriller Love from a Stranger (1937; it's re-release title in 1945 was A Night of Terror), based on the short story "Philomel Cottage" by Agatha Christie.

Terror by NightWhile attempting to sublease her apartment in preparation for her trip from England to France, she meets Gerald Lovell (Basil Rathbone), a sophisticated & seemingly sensitive charmer whom she all too suddenly finds a lot more interesting than her staid & stuffy fiance Ronny Bruce (Bruce Seton) whom she's known since childhood.

When Ronny refuses to quit his work & be dragged around the world by nouveau rich Carol, she breaks off their engagement & leaves for the continent with her friend Kate (Binnie Hale). Gerald Lovell turns out to be on the same ship & he is so seductive that they are quickly married in Paris.

Gerald has a weak heart as well as periodic mood swings & headaches. His behavior becomes eratic after he & Carol buy a secluded house in Kent. There's a delightfully loony scene in which he orders Carol to play the piano faster & faster & faster until she can't go on, his having taken a maniac delight in the speed of the tune. But it's not until the first time he loses his temper that it finally dawns on her she has married a stranger.

When he's in the basement doing his secretive photographic project, the soundtrack plays "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" as Gerald's themesong.

[SPOILER ALERT!] We've wondered from the start wondered if Ronny & Kate aren't correct that Gerald appeared in Carol's life solely because of the lottery winnings.

Love from a StrangerBut as his behavior becomes odder & odder it seems increasingly likely that he's stark raving insane, & indeed, he's a paranoic serial killer who has for years eluded capture by changing identities, each time marrying some wealthy woman whom he ritualistically kills & disappears anew with all her money.

The protracted climax has Gerald revealing his madness, with a couple scenes outdoing the "faster! faster!" piano sequence in the loony department. Just as he's about to force Carol to dress up at the ritualistic hour of her appointed demise, she stops him with the unexpected query:

"What if such a murderer happened to marry a woman who had herself killed a man & was never found out?"

He listens rapt & excited as she describes how she murdered an older man to whom she had gotten married when a teenager. How delighted Gerald becomes! But he doesn't believe the story, indeeds recognizes it as the plot of a well known novel, & now it is time for Carol to die. [END SPOILER ALERT]

Carol has one more amazing tale to spin as she struggles to survive, a last amazing ploy that makes this long-sustained climax one capper atop another.

There were moments early in the film when it seemed a bit obvious & Carol just too moronic to fall instantly for a perfect stranger who stalked her so boldly, even as her friends offer dire warnings. But by the time the film concludes, it has been a real tour de force for both Basil Rathbone & Ann Harding, & in the final analysis it's a treat for any fan of vintage murder cinema.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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