June 30, 2016

The Olivia de Havilland Centenary Blogathon - Not as a Stranger (1955)


Thanks to Crystal and Phyllis for hosting the blogathon and inviting me to participate. Please visit Crystal's blog, In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood, and Phyllis' blog, Phyllis Loves Classic Movies. You'll be glad you did.

I've been a fan of Olivia de Havilland's work for many years and have a small tribute site dedicated to her titled Olivia de Havilland ~~ One Classy Lady. From here on, I'l be referring to Olivia de Havilland as OdH.


In this piece, I'm going to focus on an OdH film that many of her fans may not have seen. Not as a Stranger (1955) is a medical drama produced and directed by Stanley Kramer. It was based on the very popular 1954 novel of the same name by Morton Thompson. Not as a Stranger is one of the first films where a human heart is seen beating during surgery.

The film featured OdH and Robert Mitchum in the lead roles, backed by a stellar supporting cast including Frank Sinatra, Gloria Grahame, Broderick Crawford, Charles Bickford, Lon Chaney, Jr., Harry Morgan, and Lee Marvin.


OdH plays the Swedish (complete with accent and blonde hair) Kristina Hedvigson Marsh, a hard-working, down-to-earth registered perioperative (surgical) nurse and oldish plain-Jane spinster.

Notice how glamorous a blonde OdH looks in the images above. The images aren't true to the character she portrays in the film. I'm sure they were publicity shots taken to sell the movie to the general public (false advertising in this case). Movie-goers don't normally rush to the box office in droves to watch nurses (except for Pam Grier in Coffy).

Also worth noting, Kristina Hedvigson Marsh (OdH) is supposed to be quite a bit older than Dr. Lucas Marsh (Robert Mitchum). OdH was born July 1, 1916 and Robert Mitchum was born August 6, 1917. They would have been 38 and 37 when the film was made in late 1954.

Another age issue causes believability problems in the film. Mitchum playing a medical student at 37 is a stretch. Worse yet, Frank Sinatra was nearly 39 when he portrayed medical student Alfred Boone. OdH playing a seasoned surgical nurse at 38 is age-appropriate and credible.

A true testament to her talent, the beautiful OdH was Oscar-nominated and won an Oscar for portraying plain women: Melanie Hamilton Wilkes in Gone with the Wind and Catherine Sloper in The Heiress.

OdH and Robert Mitchum prepared for their roles by attending eight operations and are very convincing as surgeon and surgical nurse. Broderick Crawford attended an autopsy for his autopsy scene and promptly threw up.

Watch the Opening Credits of Not as a Stranger


I have to give a nod to the fabulous Stanley Kramer. Not as a Stranger marked Kramer's directorial debut. He was an American independent film producer and director who created unconventional, socially conscious works on a variety of issues not usually addressed in mainstream Hollywood fare. The first of his notable “message” pictures was The Defiant Ones (1958). Kramer's collected body of films received many awards, including 16 Academy Awards and 80 nominations, and he was nominated nine times as either producer or director.

I'd like to call attention to Not as a Stranger's cinematographer Franz Planer. He shot over 130 movies, including Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948) plus the color films The Big Country (1958) and Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). Planer worked with Stanley Kramer on seven films: Champion (1949), Cyrano de Bergerac (1950), Death of a Salesman (1951), The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (1953), The Caine Mutiny (1954), Not as a Stranger (1955), and The Pride and the Passion (1957).

Not as a Stranger's editor Frederic Knudtson worked with Stanley Kramer eight times. Knudtson's productive association with Kramer began in 1955 and yielded his greatest work. The eight films are: Not as a Stranger (1955), The Pride and the Passion (1957), The Defiant Ones (1958), On the Beach (1959), Inherit the Wind (1960), Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), Pressure Point (1962), and It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

Olivia de Havilland as Kristina Hedvigson Marsh, Robert Mitchum as Dr. Lucas Marsh
Frank Sinatra as Dr. Alfred Boone, Gloria Grahame as Harriet Lang
Broderick Crawford as Dr. Aarons, Charles Bickford as Dr. David W. Runkleman
Here's a bit of star trivia for you. Odh's cousin was Sir Geoffrey de Havilland. He was a British aviation pioneer and aircraft engineer. His Mosquito has been considered the most versatile warplane ever built.

Robert Mitchum played the saxophone and wrote poetry.

Although James Van Heusen and Buddy Kaye are credited onscreen with the song "Not as a Stranger," and it was recorded by Frank Sinatra in 1955, only the instrumental version was used in the released movie. Sinatra's recording of the song was released in 1959 on his Look to Your Heart album. Listen to it below:


Gloria Grahame, unhappy with the tilt of her upper lip, often stuffed cotton along her gumline to straighten it out. This made it difficult for her to speak.

Broderick Crawford played Lennie in the play Of Mice and Men during its Broadway run (November 23, 1937 - May 1938).

Charles Bickford was mauled by a lion while filming East of Java (1935). Please read my post about him.

Myron McCormick as Dr. Clem Snider, Lon Chaney, Jr. as Job Marsh
Jesse White as Ben Cosgrove, Harry Morgan as Oley
Lee Marvin as Brundage, Virginia Christine as Bruni
Here's some more star trivia for you. Myron McCormick won a Tony Award in 1950 for his portrayal of sailor Luther Billis (the dude in the coconut bra) in South Pacific.

Lon Chaney, Jr.'s real name was Creighton Tull Chaney.

Jesse White starred in TV commercials as the Maytag repairman.

Harry Morgan played Officer Bill Gannon, Joe Friday's partner in the revived version of Dragnet (1967–1970). He also played Colonel Sherman T. Potter on TV's M*A*S*H.

Lee Marvin is interred at Arlington National Cemetery where his headstone reads: "Lee Marvin, PFC, US Marine Corps, World War II."

Virginia Christine is particularly remembered as "Mrs. Olson" (or the "Folgers Coffee Woman") in a number of television commercials for Folgers.


Not as a Stranger Synopsis and Info

Medical student Lucas Marsh (Robert Mitchum) has one, burning passionate desire in life. He wants to be a doctor. Unable to fund his studies himself, he woos the warm, supportive nurse Kristina (OdH), who has the financial resources he needs for him to realize his dreams. But his strong belief that a physician should be perfect has turned him into a demanding idealist. To him, anyone who deals in human life must be infallible. So, as Lucas completes his training, marries Kristina, and moves to a small town, where Lucas works as an assistant to Dr. Runkleman (Charles Bickford), his relentless perfectionism continues to alienate the people closest to him. Then a fatal mistake forces Lucas to decide who serves the patient best; an unerring machine, or a human being doing the best job he can?

Morton Thompson died a few weeks before the publication of his novel. A Variety news item of February 3, 1954 revealed that producer Stanley Kramer made a pre-publication deal to purchase the screen rights in early December 1953 for $75,000. The novel subsequently became a bestseller.

On February 17, 1954, the Los Angeles Times reported that Stanley Kramer wanted Montgomery Clift for the role of "Lucas Marsh" and Ingrid Bergman for "Kristina Hedvigson."

According to a May 20, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item, Kramer followed the "same book-plugging campaign used on The Caine Mutiny" by visiting book editors in large cities and making personal appearances at bookstores in order to publicize the novel and create a larger audience for the film.

According to a September 8, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item, Dmitri Tiomkin was originally set to write and direct the film's music score but dropped out due to "conflicting commitments."

Buildings on the UCLA campus served as exteriors for the medical school. A November 5, 1954 Hollywood Reporter news item added Whitman Air Field in the San Fernando Valley as another shooting location.

On March 10, 1955, Hollywood Reporter reported that "the biggest ad, publicity and exploitation budget in United Artists' history"—at least $1,000,000—was to be spent publicizing the picture. Other Hollywood Reporter news items noted that a special five-minute trailer, featuring Kramer explaining the film's story and how the cast was selected, and showing clips of the stars' makeup tests and performances, was to be shown on television and in movie theaters.

The film's West Coast premiere, held on June 28, 1955 in Los Angeles, raised over $30,000 for the new Mt. Sinai Hospital.

Not as a Stranger received an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound Recording (Watson Jones). Frank Sinatra was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actor, and Charles Bickford won that year's National Board of Review award for Best Supporting Actor.


There's a scene in the film that always makes me giggle. Dr. Lucas Marsh (Mitchum) has a brief affair with sexy widow and horse breeder Harriet Lang (Gloria Grahame). Check out their symbolism-laden tryst in the horse barn! They're playin' horsey!


As an old-school, cap-wearing registered nurse, I love this photo!
She looks like a nurse.

Watch OdH's Powerful Scene in Not as a Stranger


Kris is mad as hell (and with good reason). It was high time she told off her unfeeling husband. To see what happens after the big scene, watch Not as a Stranger below.


6 comments:

Caftan Woman said...

I find "Not as a Stranger" a fascinating mess. I can't turn away, but shake my head at some of the choices (the horses during Mitchum's nightttime visit to Grahame - geesh!).

Sensei said...

Great overview and commentary. I so wanted to enjoy this film, but I didn't, mostly because it was too much a melodrama and lacked the tension I needed in the first half. The lack of age difference and OdH's earnestness were just too much. And Sinatra mostly annoyed me. I'm glad you attended to direction, cinematography, and editing. Perhaps I'll give it another try one day.

Phyl said...

What an unusual cast!! I have never heard of this movie but I love books and movies about nurses and since you've thoughtfully included the link I will have to watch it!!

I could never watch a surgery much less 8!!! OdH certainly was amazing!

Thanks for this great contribution and all the trivia!!!

Joe Thompson said...

I haven't seen this one. I'll always watch a movie with Gloria Grahame. I don't know why she was so insecure about her looks. I enjoyed your review.

Silver Screenings said...

Can't believe I haven't seen this film – and with such a great cast, too! Thanks for embedding this in your post. I've bookmarked it to watch later. :)

Hamlette said...

The cast alone means I'll have to give this a try. Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum, Frank Sinatra, Gloria Grahame, AND Olivia de Havilland? Wow!