The Stranger (1973 film)
VHS Home Video Cover
|Created by||Gerald Sanford|
|Directed by||Lee H. Katzin|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||1|
|Running time||100 min|
|Original airing||26 February 1973|
The Stranger is a television movie made in 1973 as a pilot for a new television series, but was never picked up by a network. It was directed by Lee H. Katzin.
Film Ventures International, an independent movie production and distribution company rereleased The Stranger on VHS under the title Stranded in Space. As with other films rereleased under the FVI banner, The Stranger's new opening credits featured footage from an entirely unrelated film, in this case the 1983 low budget science fiction film Prisoners of the Lost Universe.
The movie stars Glenn Corbett as Neil Stryker, an astronaut from Earth whose space mission crashes on an undiscovered twin planet of Earth, hidden on the far side of the sun. Hospitalized as a result of the spaceship crash, Neil was actually not seriously injured, but his captors use the pretense of his crash as a necessity for hospitalization, giving them time to surreptitiously interrogate him during his sleep by using drugs. Dr. Revere (Tim O'Connor) is clearly concerned by the strain, caught between the concern for the patient but his responsibility to the government.
The twin planet, known to its inhabitants as Terra, superficially resembles Earth, with a recognizable society and technology (right down to identical car models, all Chrysler products), but a system of government and citizen comradeship that is alien to Stryker: the Perfect Order. The enforcement of the order is facilitated by a hierarchy of officials who scrutinize their subordinates extremely closely, and by inspirational messages, "pep" talks to remind citizens of the great family they're part of, and electronic monitoring.
While escaping from the hospital, Stryker narrowly avoids being shot dead and escapes the building, tries to use a public phone to contact Cape Kennedy, and then hitches a ride to escape the area. While riding, he sees that there are three moons, and realizes he can't be on Earth. Stryker only slowly begins to uncover clues about the place he's in, and only after finally befriending Dr. Bettina Cooke (Sharon Acker) is he able to learn more from her and her friend, Prof. Dylan MacAuley (Lew Ayres).
The Perfect Order only has been around for some 35 to 40 years, after a terrible war. The order was instituted to foster a sense of family among every person on Terra, to help each other and think of each other and the good of the whole. People with incompatible ideas are removed and reconditioned, and if resistant, executed. The state uses not only the reporting of individuals, but also technology such as the phone, two-way television and two-way car radios to monitor individuals on a spot basis, and sometimes continuously. Culture has been heavily excised (no concerts in the park), religion outlawed, and alcoholic drinks are viewed as a future target to eliminate. Among its accomplishments, the Perfect Order has eliminated suffering and poverty, and has a vibrant space program.
Neil and Dylan determine to get Neil aboard a Terran spacecraft about to be launched, with Neil intending to replace its astronaut and pilot the ship back to Earth. However, the government agent determined to find Neil, Benedict (Cameron Mitchell), has not relented since Neil escaped from the hospital where Benedict was interrogating him. He finally tracks down Bettina, uses crude violence in his interrogation of her, and conditions her to help lead him to Neil. Benedict and his people arrive at the space complex in sufficient time to stop Neil before the rocket can launch with him aboard. Neil leads them on a chase through the complex, and the authorities have Neil cornered while he is close to the liquid oxygen tanks, where nobody dares use guns.
Neil jumps into the ocean while firing at the LOX tanks, setting off a fire. Benedict's lieutenant, Henry Maitland (Steve Franken), feels sure Neil couldn't have survived, but Benedict will settle for nothing less than proof. Meanwhile, Neil wades ashore north along the coast, right where the Nelson family is camping. He gives an alias, says his boat capsized, and is welcomed by Tom Nelson to join them for their pleasure trip north. Before following the family to their van, he turns to regard the three alien moons, and remembers Dylan telling him it wasn't impossible that he should get home.
Behind the scenes
The series would have had a feel of The Fugitive, with Neil as the fugitive on the run, trying to find people who would sympathize and help him, but wary of anyone finding out his true nature and turning him in to the authorities.
The movie was written by Gerald Sanford and directed by Lee H. Katzin. It was a Bing Crosby production.
The idea of an astronaut landing on a twin planet orbiting the Sun exactly opposite Earth was used in the film Doppelgänger (also known as Journey to the Far Side of the Sun), produced four years earlier, in 1969.
This film was produced during the height of the Cold War, and idea of the "Perfect Order" follows some of the known social and political ideas in Communist and Fascist societies in recent history.
Chrysler Corporation is listed in the credits at the end of the film for providing the automobiles. A Chevy Van was used toward the beginning of the film, and the bowtie on the grille was accordingly disguised.
In June 1991, the film was presented in its Film Ventures International iteration as part of an episode of the movie-mocking television series Mystery Science Theater 3000. [Interesting 'full circle': the credit sequence originating from "Prisoners of the Lost Universe" a film later 'riffed' by three Mystery Science Theater 3000 alums at RiffTrax.]