Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Stranger" lets viewer imagine gory details

Cleveland Press October 8, 1979

"When A Stranger Calls" is almost a throwback to the days when studios ground out films in vast numbers suspense movies formed a large part of that output and extremely skillful though not necessarily major name actors and actresses performed in these pictures.

It's a throwback in another way. It has become standard procedure now to have the camera linger over every violent act, every drop of blood. It's almost as though telling a tale by implication is a lost art.

"When A Stranger Calls" is a film that gets back to implication, to imaginative camera work that takes you to the edge of a bloody deed, but allows your imagination to fill in the gory details.

The plot has a couple of holes; but these are minor flaws and in a tightly made suspense film you tend to ignore them at the time.

The picture is really two stories in one. The first is about a baby sitter terrorized by mysterious phone calls, her attempts to deal with the situation by locking doors. dimming lights and calling police. Then comes the realization that the caller is closer than she realized.

The story then skips seven years. The psychotic killer has escaped from the hospital for the criminally insane. The baby sitter has children of her own. The detective who was in on the arrest is now retired and a private investigator.

Then it becomes the story of a manhunt with a background of police frustration over a system of justice that may lead to a repeat performance.

The movie goes full circle to another scene involving a terrified person as a killer stalks.

The movie has been smoothly and suspensefully directed by Fred Walton, who co-authored the script.

But what gives this small film class are first class performances from Carol Kane as the sitter, Colleen Dewhurst as a middle-aged saloon habitue and Tony Beckley as the killer.

Charles Durning is especially good as the detective -- world weary, old, overweight, frustrated, with his frustration making him resigned to handle justice his way. There is an especially good scene in which he boils over in the presence of a psychiatrist who is determined to give him either glib answers or no answers at all.

But what counts in a suspense movie is the way in which tension mounts in which the film leads you on, in the way climaxes explode on the screen.

"When A Stranger Calls" scores all the way in such matters.