Too tasteful to be a true camp classic but too nutty to be viewed as anything but camp, this maudlin melodrama plays a little like SUNSET BOULEVARD--were that great film to have been written and directed by its tragic heroine, Norma Desmond. Certainly there is none of Billy Wilder's
trademark irony in this straight-faced tale of a lonely old woman and the brooding, hunky young cop killer (Stallone-clone Anthony Nocerino in his film debut) who invades her home--and seemingly touches her heart. Actually, it's not clear exactly what the old woman's reaction is to the intruder,
since Shelley Winters, as Lily, gives one of her more daft performances-from-another-planet, acting in a movie playing only in her head. During the opening credits, Lily engages in what seems to be her sole daytime activity, sitting on a bench in the walled-in backyard of her Middletown tract home
and staring into space. That night, fate rears its ugly head and deposits the plot of the film on her doorstep in the form of the young thug, Jet (Norcerino). Sporting a nasty-looking bullet wound in his side, Jet, who has allegedly killed a cop, needs a place to stay for the night; he's leaving
the next day for South America. Why he's going and how he'll get there is never explained. But that doesn't matter. What does matter (and this is the true horror) is that Jet is a Method-acting houseguest who won't leave. (That's right, we're in another installment of "It Came from Actor's
Studio!") Lily splashes a little gin on the bullet wound, applies a few bandages, and Jet is back to normal. In fact, the very next morning he demonstrates his usual violent nature when he gets into a snarling match with Lily about putting tomatoes in his omelette. "I don't open my door in
decades! And when I do, I let in a maniac!" complains Lily. But she gets back at her visitor soon enough, first with a seemingly endless a cappella croaking of an ancient Johnny Mercer tune, then by hiding Jet's gun. Jet responds with another fit of sub-Brando moping, mumbling, and Methodizing.
Lily counters by talking into linen closets, conversing with her reflection in the dinnerware, and becoming upset when Jet begins playing with an electric train that belonged to someone who was very important to Lily, though we never learn who. However, it is apparent these two lonely people have
something in common (in addition to the ferocious inarticulateness of the actors portraying them), though, again, what they have in common never becomes clear. Apparently, virtually all of the scenes dealing with Lily's character were either cut or went unfilmed when the production money ran out.
Lily does tend to go into voiceover mode before she drifts off to sleep at night, but these voiceovers explain nothing. Nonsensical flashbacks, introduced by rippling-water effects, aren't much help either. One reveals that Jet's little buddy, Finny (Danny Capri), was run over by a Mercedes after
trying to steal nails from a hardware store; another demonstrates that Jet did indeed shoot a cop, who was trying to roust him out of the city park at closing time.
Naturally, a grudging affection develops between Lily and Jet. Soon the misunderstood hunk is happily tinkering in the garage--fixing broken furniture and trying to get Lily's ancient sedan running again. He doesn't really finish either project, but his involvement with them sets the stage for the
affectionate scenes between Lily and Jet that make up the bulk of TOUCH OF A STRANGER's running time. Sliding into the immobile car, the two fall asleep in each other's arms. The next morning, Jet and Lily cryptically refer to something that happened the previous night that has apparently put
their relationship on a new plane. Jet begins wearing old clothes and smoking cigars that belonged to Lily's husband, son, or maybe the last maniac she let into the house. Tragically, an evil girl scout blows the whistle on Lily and Jet's cozy little arrangement. In no time, the cops arrive.
Actually, we don't see any police as such, but sirens and mouthy extras are heard on the soundtrack and weird lights come through Lily's windows. As Jet, hands on his head, mopes off to meet his fate, Lily yells at the mouthy extras, "Whatsamatter? Haven't you ever seen a woman before?" Then she
slams her door for the next couple of decades.
Wacky, weird, zany--TOUCH OF A STRANGER is all of those things and more. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that the film was intended to embody any of those characteristics. What it wants to be is one of those intense, overwrought talking-heads dramas--last in vogue during the late 50s and early
60s--in which a couple of characters sit in a room and bare their souls to each other for what seems like an eternity. In truth, there's something admirable about Winters' refusal to go gently into dignified show-business dotage; instead, she insists on going hysterically over the top in movies
like this. Her offbeat rebellion is a breath of fresh air in today's sterilized, corporate moviemaking environment. That doesn't make TOUCH OF A STRANGER a good movie, but there is nevertheless something strangely reassuring about the fact that it was made at all. (Profanity.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Released: 1990
- Rating: R
- Review: Too tasteful to be a true camp classic but too nutty to be viewed as anything but camp, this maudlin melodrama plays a little like SUNSET BOULEVARD--were that great film to have been written and directed by its tragic heroine, Norma Desmond. Certainly ther… (more)