TV Terror Guide: The Stranger (1973)
Air Date: Feb. 26, 1973 (NBC Monday Night Movie)
Production Companies: Bing Crosby Productions, Fenady Associates
Running Time: 100 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: Gerald Sanford
Directed by: Lee H. Katzin
Cast: Glenn Corbett, Cameron Mitchell, Sharon Acker, Lew Ayres, George Coulouris, Steve Franken, Dean Jagger, Tim O’Connor
Astronaut Neil Stryker (Glenn Corbett) awakens in a hospital bed following a tumble through space when a failure in his ship’s “transponder” prevents him and his two crew members from identifying their trajectory. He learns he’s been isolated there for two weeks and that his companions died during the accident. With a title like, The Stranger, I assumed this was not really going to be Stryker. Perhaps it would be an alien that inhabited his body.
I didn’t realize that Stryker himself was going to be the titular character and, although, his surroundings look an awful lot like Earth, his ship has crashed elsewhere. He finds himself a stranger on another planet. It’s a familiar setup yet feels different. It’s science-fiction on the cheap, not having to invest in futuristic sets or unique special effects (although there is a really cool tunnel with lots of Caligari-esque angles within its structure.
This tunnel leads to Ward E, where those who oppose the ruling “Perfect Order” are taken for… reconditioning? If they’re allowed to leave, they have horrible round scars on the sides of their heads and don’t act quite the same as they usually do. We’re not sure exactly how this society that is so familiar to Stryker, yet so different, came into existence. We just know that any history prior to the last 30 years has been forgotten.
Professor Dylan MacAuley (Lew Ayres) tells Styker, “We closed our eyes for a little while and when we opened them, the Perfect Order was there.” On the surface, its rule doesn’t seem so bad. The Perfect Order reminds everyone on morning broadcasts that mankind’s highest goal is to live in harmony and peace. However, an old man at the bookstore remembers that before the Perfect Order, there used to be music all the time.
Stryker is suspicious from the beginning. When Dr. Revere (Tim O’Connor) says he’s from Boston, but doesn’t get his patient’s joke about being related to Paul Revere (he thinks he’s a baseball player), he’s certain he’s not in Kansas anymore. Imagine if he knew that George Benedict (Cameron Mitchell) was watching him from behind a two-way mirror. It isn’t long until Stryker escapes with Benedict hot on his tail.
It’s a twist on The Fugitive that is just unique enough to be a good concept for a TV series. Indeed, The Stranger was a failed pilot for an ongoing show. That’s probably why his oversimplified plan to simply steal a rocket and fly himself back home doesn’t work out and the movie is ultimately open-ended. It leaves a couple loose ends, too, that I would have returned to see if they were resolved. For example, were his two astronaut friends really dead?
Benedict leads the bad guys but, as he explains to his sidekick, Henry Maitland (Steve Franken), “We all have to answer to someone.” He reports to a council of three and is under pressure to deliver results. Henry asks, “Is he to be taken alive.” Benedict responds, “He’s to be taken.” Mitchell and Franken are strong cast members while some of the others are… not. Corbett demonstrates little charisma, and as Dr. Bettina Cooke, Sharon Acker is worse.
Nevertheless, it’s a fun movie. Writer/Creator Gerald Sanford pays attention to the little details. For example, everyone on this planet, Terra, is left-handed. There are also three moons, which provides a tiny touch of visual flare. Directed by Lee H. Katzin, The Stranger lacks some energy (even a big helicopter/car chase seems sluggish); however, its longer than usual running time 100 minutes (vs. the 75 minutes for most TV movies) somehow keeps moving, and kept me engaged.
Now, for my dear friend, Richard, I’m compelled to deliver, not one, but two Star Trek references! (You’re welcome.) Corbett played Zefram Cochran in the second season episode, Metamorphosis, and Acker played Odana in the third season episode, The Mark of Gideon. Cochran was a significant enough character (he invented the warp drive) that he was played by James Cromwell in the feature film, Star Trek First Contact 1996.) How’d I do, Rich?
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch The Stranger as well as all the great movies from this series...