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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

'The Stranger Within:' The Immaculate Misconception

Stranger Within, The (1974 TV)
Star of the 1974 made-for-TV-movie "The Stranger Within" Barbara Eden, best known as the titular character in the uber-classic '60s sitcom "I Dream of Jeannie," grants the wish of every reviewer by doing our job for us. The thoughts that Eden expresses regarding "Stranger" in her 2011 auto-biography "Jeannie Out of the Bottle" sums up this film perfectly.

Eden writes "In 1974 I appeared in a real howler of a TV movie of the week, The Stranger Within, in which I gave birth to an alien baby, ate a great deal of raw meat, and drank a lot of coffee. Sigmund Freud probably would have had a field day analyzing that script!"

Although "Stranger" was released in January 2010, it warrants a review both because of this being the Halloween season and because of a nice personal connection with Eden. A discussion during an interview, which Unreal TV will republish in the next few months, for another outlet led to forming a nice bond with Eden regarding a common experience.

The conflict that drives "Stranger" relates to Eden's character Ann Collins discovering that she is pregnant despite her husband David Collins, played by "The Adams Chronicles'" George Grizzard, having had a vasectomy three years ago. Ann's credible denials of not violating the Seventh Commandment largely rules out the obvious answer regarding the identity of the baby daddy.

Much of the wonderful '70s "TV Movie of the Week" vibe comes from Ann's pregnancy-related over-the-top bizarre behavior. She has toxic mood swings, chugs enough scalding hot java to inspire commenting "she never has a second pot of my coffee," and liberally salts everything she eats to the extent of making the remark "do you want some salad with your salt" mandatory.

Although the obvious comparison is to the exceptional Mia Farrow film "Rosemary's Baby," the plot and campy elements make "Stranger" also seems like the alien pregnancy story line in the '7os Susan Harris soap opera parody "Soap."

Having David Doyle of "Charlie's Angels" and veteran character actress Joyce Van Patten of the character actor Van Patten family acting dynasty play the Collins' best friends and confidants adds to the wonderful tv movie feel.

The good news is that any chance to see Eden perform is a good thing, and "Strangers" provides the bonus of depicting both TV movie staples of an over-wrought family drama and a low-budget sci-fi threat. Additionally, the very strong early '70s look of the film is a treat for those of who remember macrame plant holders and earth tones.

The less good news relates to an astute observation by a very special person that "Strangers" is a good candidate for being satirized on "Mystery Science Theater 3000." This comment coinciding with one of "Stranger's" filler scenes is not coincidental both because such segments provided the "MST 3K" with great fodder, and these scenes were the only bad ones in "Stranger."

The elongated scenes that involve moderate speed car chase and Ann walking in the hills near her home would have been as effective if they had actually depicted grass growing or paint drying.

Wonderfully campy scenes in which Ann goes on binges and literally absorbs information and culture offset the few times that the painfully slow pace evokes thoughts of shouting "make it stop."

The final 10 minutes of "Stranger" are adequately wonderfully bizarre to evoke thoughts of the recent big-budget film "Mama" and to make the viewer wish for a "Stranger" sequel. One can only hope for a new Lifetime version of "Stranger" starring Tracey Gold and Adam Rich.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Stranger" or Eden is encouraged to email me; you are also welcome to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.