FILM REVIEWS, COLLECTION UPDATES, COMMENTS ON CINEMATIC CULTURE

Thursday, January 19, 2023

HONEYMOON WITH A STRANGER (1969)

 

In celebration of Barbara Steele's recent birthday (She was born in Ireland on December 29, 1938. Some sources say 1937. Discretion is advised.), I would like to showcase this ABC Movie of the Week that debuted on American television in December of 1969. It was filmed in Spain and directed by Joseph Peyser. Steele has a strong supporting role among an international cast of actors: Janet Leigh, Rossano Brazzi, Joseph Lenzi, Cesare Danova, and Eric Braeden.

The plot is based on the French play Piege pour un homme seul (Trap For a Lonely Man) by Robert Thomas. An American woman, Sandra Latham (Janet Leigh), is honeymooning in Spain with her new husband, Ernesto DiCardi (Joseph Lenzi). After their first glorious, passionate night together, Sandra awakens in the morning to find her husband gone. When several days pass without his return, she goes to the local police station to report him as missing. She enlists the help of Captain Sevilla (Rossano Brazzi). But then, Ernesto suddenly returns. However, it's not the same man she married. She swears to Captain Sevilla that this second man (Cesare Danova) is an imposter. But Ernesto DiCardi's best friend and lawyer, Frederico Caprio (Eric Braeden) and Ernesto's sister, Carla (Barbara Steele), show up and identify the second Ernesto as the real one. Sandra is near hysteria, swearing to Captain Sevilla that the family has organized some sort of heinous plot against her. And so, the plot indeed thickens! Things are not what they seem to be, and nearly everyone is guarding a mysterious secret.

Janet Leigh and Cesare Danova

This movie is a fun watch, even if the story seems somewhat familiar. The location shooting in Spain adds sort of an exotic atmosphere, although the landscape tends to be quite dry and desolate. Still, this was a nice diversion for American television, especially with the international cast. Top-billed Janet Leigh had been a major movie star for quite a long time by 1969, although her career was beginning to slow down a little. To keep working, she turned to television. She's quite good in this film. As the story moves along and we learn more about Sandra, one is tempted to think that Marian Crane from PSYCHO (1960) had managed to escape that little shower incident and morphed into a hardened, determined female mastermind. The Italian gentlemen are as suave as one would expect, and the handsome German actor Eric Braeden is forceful and masculine, threatening to steal every scene he's in.

Eric Braeden and Barbara Steele

Of course, for a Barbara Steele freak like myself, this lovely actress is the whole show. Her American fans were surprised and delighted to see her in this movie. She had done very little work in this country. In 1960, while briefly under contract to 20th Century-Fox in Hollywood, she appeared in one episode of the TV series Adventures In Paradise. In 1961, she appeared in THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM for American-International Pictures as well as an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents about the same time. Most of her films were made in Europe; Italy, France, Germany, etc. Only a few of her stylish Gothic horror films, and Fellini's art house classic 8 1/2 were seen in the US. She remained largely an enigmatic figure for most of us. HONEYMOON WITH A STRANGER gave us the chance to see her in a contemporary setting, working with distinguished co-stars. Her dark beauty adds a dramatic and mysterious flair to the film.



Steele made this film at a time of great change in her life and career. After many years of living in Rome, she returned to the United States sometime in 1968 or 1969 with her new-found love, screenwriter James Poe. He was preparing a script for a film entitled THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY?, and was writing one of the parts for Barbara. He was also planning to direct the film. When they came to Hollywood and signed with a production company, James Poe must not have bothered to read the fine print in the contract. The producers gave themselves the right to make any changes they desired. The first thing they did was bring in another writer to work on Poe's script, taking it out of his hands. They didn't want Poe to direct, so they hired Sidney Pollack. Barbara was replaced by another English actress, Susannah York. It was a devastating experience for James and Barbara. Her career slowed down considerably, as did Poe's. After working in HONEYMOON WITH A STRANGER, Barbara returned to Italy for a very strange movie called FERMATE IL MONDO...VOGLIO SCENDERE aka STOP THE WORLD...I WANT TO GET OFF (1970). After that, she and Poe were married, settled in Hollywood, and she didn't make another feature film until her comeback in Jonathan Demme's cult favorite CAGED HEAT (1974). 

Steele's devoted fans can only wonder what she may have been able to accomplish during this period when she was at the peak of her beauty and dramatic power. But at least we have this enjoyable movie to watch her in, holding her own among equally talented actors. This is another one of those made-for-TV-flicks that isn't yet available on any kind of commercial release. It can be found on Youtube, and also on DVD-R from a few online sellers. The imagery is not terribly good, unfortunately. Let's hope it eventually gets a little bit of much deserved love and remastering.






6 comments:

  1. This is definitely a revelation to me! I've never even heard of this, and I've read plenty of things about Barbara Steele and her career. (Maybe the fact that it's "only" a TV movie is why it never comes up for discussion.) I'll certainly be checking this out.

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  2. Here's the link for the film on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-79mRRaFAQ
    I imagine there are lots of people who don't know about this movie. Most of these TV Movies from the 60's and 70's exist in some kind of limbo. Only a few of them are available on physical media and most of them never get rerun on TV anymore. I don't remember Barbara talking about the movie herself. She's probably never seen it, which is a shame, because she's really good in it. It's sad that she didn't do more work during this period, but her life got complicated. If you get a chance to watch the film, let me know what you think.

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  3. Another interesting tv movie from the era. This one though I’m sure I have never seen. The networks could finance big name stars and foreign location shooting so I assume they received good ratings. Eric Braeden is remembered by me for Rat Patrol and a really good sci-fi movie The Forbin Project. I checked his filmography and discovered nearly 4,000 episodes of the Young and the Restless! The youtube print may be watchable on my ipad and I intend to give it a try later today. I think some boutique labels may start digging into tv movies. Fun City has already begun with a recent release called Prime Time Panic, three tv movies restored to bluray from the 1980s. Really enjoyed your writeup, Mike, and your dedication to Barbara Steele who I happily see is still with us.

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  4. I remember seeing Eric Braeden once in a while on Rat Patrol and I love The Forbin Project. And for years I was completely hooked on The Young and the Restless, but I managed to break away quite a while ago and now catch up only occasionally. So glad to hear about the Fun City release. There were a lot of good TV movies, and it would be great if they were given decent releases. One that I would love to see is F. Scott Fitzgerald in Hollywood, with Tuesday Weld playing Zelda. I remember seeing part of it, and it seems to have disappeared from the universe. Barbara is indeed still with us. I really don't know what she's up to, but I think she's scheduled for another film convention. I've been lucky enough to meet her twice and get her autograph. Just call me fanboy!

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  5. Hi Mike, this sounds very intriguing. Last fall, I did a review on another Janet Leigh TV movie from about the same time--"House on Greenapple Road." This time, SHE'S the spouse who disappears. Which there is finally a good copy of on YouTube. Check it out. And I will check this one! Cheers, Rick

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  6. Hi Rick! I vaguely remember House On Greenapple Road, and I would love to see it again. Some of those TV movies were really quite good, and most of them were mysteries or even horror stories. It's high time for some serious remastering on home video formats. I will search out Greenapple Rd., and I hope you enjoy Honeymoon With a Stranger. Thanks for the comment, Rick!

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