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Movie Reviews

DVD Review: “The Strange One”

(Sony. 1957/2009. 1 hour, 40 minutes. Not Rated. Directed by Jack Garfein.) Ben Gazzara, Pat Hingle, Peter Mark Richman, Arthur Storch, Paul E. Richards, Larry Gates, Clifton James, Geoffrey Horne, James Olson, Julie Wilson, George Peppard Music by Kenyon Hopkins.


This is a strange one, all right. Oddly compelling, or compellingly odd. Actor’s Studio artifact marked the film debuts of Gazzara and Peppard. Ben G. plays Cadet Sgt. Jocko De Paris (check the porn-star name), resident bully at a Southern military academy (e.g., The Citadel). He’s a smooth operator who favors cigarette holders, silk dressing gowns, and doing as little as possible save intimidating the freshmen, and whoever else gets in his way, with sadistic stunts. Gay subtexts are personified in Cadet Simmons (Storch), a buck-toothed, bespectacled momma’s boy who’s afraid of women and plans to enter the “clergy.” There’s also Cadet McKee (Richards), aka “Cockroach,” who has such a fixation on Jocko he’s writing a thinly-veiled biography of him, including at least 92 chapters. Cockroach’s nickname for Jocko is “Nightboy.” OK, you get it. When Jocko engineers the expulsion of a hated rival, his power plays start to backfire.

The screenplay is by Calder Willingham based on his novel and play End as a Man, which was successfully staged on Broadway by director Garfein with Gazzara in the lead, bringing him his first major notices. Any young actor in the mid-50s was trying to be the next Brando or Dean. Gazzara, now 79, has had a long career and is still active; he knew both icons, but never attained their heights. (He would go on to originate the role of Brick in Elia Kazan’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.) Director Garfein, an Auschwitz survivor and proponent of Method acting who taught at the Actor’s Studio, only made one other film: Something Wild with now ex-wife Carroll Baker. I don’t know how Strange played on stage, but here the actors (most were holdovers from the play) are all over the place. Gazzara is fine, and so is Peppard as a by-the-book freshman, but some of the others are just caricatures. Only extra on the disc is Gazzara reminiscing about The Strange One; he recalled hearing that James Dean wanted to play Jocko in the movie (“I thought he was my friend,” Gazzara says. “Bad boy!”).