This week's contribution to Todd Mason's Overlooked Films may not be so much overlooked as it is lost in the crowd. The Gaunt Stranger (1938; aka The Phantom Strikes) is the third of least four films based on Edgar Wallace's book of the same title. (The others are The Gaunt Stranger (1931; aka The Ringer, from the US title of the book); The Sorceror (1932), and The Ringer (also 1938). IMDB lists 214 titles based on Wallace's work -- no wonder this one is lost in the crowd.
The plot of the melodrama is simple: a master criminal who is a genius at disguise vows to murder someone in a daring fashion. Can the police catch him? The film, although dated, holds up well and is still well received..
Edgar Wallace is somewhat disdained today as a hack (in many ways, he was), but during his time he was one of the world's most popular thriller writers. Wallace wrote at least 90 thrillers and 65 collections of short stories; this doesn't count his many plays, non-fiction works, poetry, journalism, and feature articles. He invented many of the cliches in the genre. His characters included The Just Men, Sanders of the River, and Mr. J. G. Reeder; lesser-known characters were The Sooper, Inspector Elk, Superintendent Minter, and T. B. Smith. His most famous character? King Kong. He died at age 58, one of the most prolific writers of the 20th Century.
The Gaunt Stranger was directed by Walter Forde, a journeyman British director who would also direct the 1931 version. (Interestingly, he recast the same actor, John Longden, in the same role, as Inspector Bliss, in both movies.) The screenplay was written by Sidney Gilliat, whose other writing credits include The Lady Vanishes, Jamaica Inn, Wee Geordie, Green for Danger, A Yank at Oxford, Waterloo Road, and The Belles of St. Trinian's.
The cast of The Gaunt Stranger includes Patrick Barr, Peter Croft, Charles Eaton, Sonnie Hale, Arthur Hambling, Louise Henry, Alexander Knox, Wilfred Lawson, the aforementioned John Longden, George Merritt, and Patricia Roc.
So, without further ado, Ladies and Gentlemen, we present The Gaunt Stranger:
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