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Bridie Quilty (Deborah Kerr) has been raised on her Irish father's fire and brimstone speeches about the malfeasance of the British. So in 1944 when she reaches 21, the naive but spunky Bridie leaves her Southern Ireland town of Ballygarry and is off to Dublin to launch her own campaign to drive every last Brit from her homeland by joining the IRA. She begins by defacing a statue of British military leader Oliver Cromwell, but finds little receptivity to the Irish cause in Dublin. While working as a barmaid in a pub, however, Birdie finds German spy J. Miller (Raymond Huntley) very receptive to her anti-British sentiment. Miller is willing to use her as a pawn to help spring a Nazi spy from a British prison. Poor Bridie becomes embroiled in a nasty espionage plot, but is helped to extricate herself by a love struck British intelligence officer Lt. David Baynes (Trevor Howard) who recognizes just what a lamb amidst wolves Bridie is and intervenes before she can reveal the details of the D-Day landings.
I See a Dark Stranger (1946) is a unique combination of thrills and farcical comedy that was, no doubt, meant to temper any anti-British sentiment. The filmmakers elicit significant dramatic tension from the tightening noose around Bridie's neck, but also glean laughs from the various oddball types the Irish lass encounters on her travels including the two bumbling, incompetent policemen poorly defending the homeland -Captain Goodhusband (Garry Marsh) and Lieutenant Spanswick (Tom Macaulay). The film moves between the murky shadows and psychological darkness of film noir, especially when Bridie attempts to dispose of a fellow spy's body, and the wry humor of the Ealing Studios comedies (Katie Johnson, star of the 1955 Ealing Studios comedy classic The Ladykillers (1955), even appears briefly in the film).
< br> I See a Dark Stranger was shot in Ireland, around Wexford following World War II as the country was still recuperating from the deprivations of war time. But in Ireland, the cast and crew found unlimited amounts of Irish whisky and unrationed clothing. In Vivienne Knight's Trevor Howard: A Gentleman and a Player the author recounts how Howard managed to pass through customs despite being loaded down with contraband. Released in America as The Adventuress, the film was never a box office sensation though it was well received by critics. Knight notes that New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called it "keenly sensitive and shrewd."
I See a Dark Stranger was the first release of the Individual Pictures company, formed in 1945 by playwright-turned-screenwriter Frank Launder and assistant director-turned-screenwriter Sidney Gilliat, the writing team behind Hitchcock's The Lady Vanishes (1938), which boasts a similarly dark comic tone. The pair decided to take turns as director on Individual Pictures projects, with Launder directing this first go-around.
Though only 24 when she made I See a Dark Stranger, the film was Kerr's fifth feature film and it earned her, along with Black Narcissus (1947) a New York Film Critics Award.
Director: Frank Launder
Producer: Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat
Screenplay: Sidney Gilliat and Wolfgang Wilhelm from story by Frank Launder
Cinematography: Wilkie Cooper
Production Design: Norman G. Arnold
Music: William Alwyn
Cast: Deborah Kerr (Bridie Quilty), Trevor Howard (Lt. David Baynes), Raymond Huntley (J. Miller), Michael Howard (Hawkins), Liam Redmond (Uncle Timothy), Brefni O'Rorke (Michael O'Callaghan).
by Felicia Feaster