Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Silent Stranger aka The Stranger In Japan

MGM released the Italian westerns A STRANGER IN TOWN and THE STRANGER RETURNS in the United States in 1967 to good box office. Good enough for the studio to order another sequel from producer Allen Klein, the controversial manager of the Beatles, and producer/writer/star Tony Anthony. Perhaps judging that the eccentricities of the two previous films helped them stand out among the glut of spaghetti westerns filling drive-ins, Anthony, Klein, and director Luigi Vanzi doubled down, sending Anthony’s anti-hero The Stranger to Japan.

As an unconscious tribute to both the Japanese setting and The Stranger’s debt to Clint Eastwood’s The Man With No Name, THE SILENT STRANGER is a riff on YOJIMBO, which also inspired the plot of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. The Stranger shoots down some bandits attacking a young Japanese man. The dying youth hands him a scroll and begs him to deliver it to Japan, where he will be paid $20,000. Once The Stranger gets there, he finds two opposing factions laying claim to the scroll, which is worth one million U.S. dollars, and plays each against the other to ensure his own hide survives. A nearsighted but nasty American (Lloyd Battista) is aligned with one side and against The Stranger too.

Plagued with stormy weather, Vanzi uses the Japanese setting to strong effect, as it provides a unique backdrop for the typical spaghetti trappings (swords replace guns in some action scenes). MGM’s generous budget allowed for more extras, elaborate sets, and another evocative Stelvio Cipriani score. The typhoons may have been a frustrating problem for Vanzi and Anthony, but the rain looks great on film. If the filmmakers’ intent was to do something original in a well-worn genre, they succeeded, while still providing crowd-pleasing scoops of violence. Anthony is a stiff performer, but he gives the amoral Stranger an underdog quality that puts the audience on his side.

Though lensed in Japan in 1968, legal wranglings and studio politics prevented MGM from releasing it in America until 1975, by which time who gave a damn about spaghetti westerns or Tony Anthony. Cut (sometimes awkwardly) to achieve a PG rating, THE SILENT STRANGER popped up under several titles, including THE STRANGER IN JAPAN, SAMURAI ON A HORSE, and THE HORSEMAN AND THE SAMURAI. In the meantime, Anthony and Battista teamed up again as rivals in BLINDMAN, which co-starred Klein’s client Ringo Starr as a Mexican bandit.

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