Ben Gazarra makes his screen debut as the strange one in The Strange One (1957), a sadistic cadet in a military college who manipulates his fellow cadets with cruel calculation that goes well beyond hazing.
Gazzara is cool and cruel as the bullying Jocko DeParis, a sociopath who never raises his voice while he stirs up trouble and makes everyone around him an accessory to his crimes. He dominates the screen in his film debut. George Peppard is the reluctant conscience of the film.
Censored upon its release and largely unseen for years, The Strange One is a curious artifact of film history. Calder Willingham originally adapted his own novel for a stage production developed from a workshop at the famed Actor’s Studio. Legendary independent producer Sam Spiegel (The African Queen and On the Waterfront, among many others) brought it to the screen along with Willingham as screenwriter, stage director Jack Garfield behind the camera, and most of the original cast.
It’s a stagebound adaptation with only a few scenes outside of the barracks but the intense and dynamic performances carry the film and become a showcase for the work of the Actors Studio in the fifties. There’s also an unmistakable gay undercurrent with a fawning cadet nicknamed “Cockroach” (Paul E. Richards) whose “crush” on DeParis develops into something more unseemly, and a self-loathing freshman (Arthur Storch) who refuses to shower with the other men and avoids contact with women.
The film presents homosexuality as a kind of pathology, a regrettable reflection of the time but perfectly in tune with the film. Some of those scenes were cut before its original 1957 release but have since been restored.
Pat Hingle, Peter Mark Richman, Larry Gates, Clifton James, and James Olson costar.
In black and white, not rated
The DVD releases features a ten-minute video interview with Ben Gazzara discussing his work with the Actor’s Studio, the original stage production and the transition to the screen, and his early career as an actor.