She was a showgirl, her name was Johnny (Ginger Rogers), and she has made a success of herself, enough to graduate from the stage to retire to her own villa on the French Riviera near Cannes where she can swim in her private pool and be waited on hand and foot by her maid. As if that was not enough, she is being romanced by a wealthy businessman, Louis Galt (Stanley Baker), who insists he can make a good woman of her once he has divorced his current wife, who he has been separated from for a while now. But what Johnny doesn't know is that her boyfriend is dealing with some shady folks and the source of his money is not entirely above board, which will translate into stormy waters ahead for their relationship, even with the new boat he has bought for her...
Beautiful Stranger happened along when British films were keen to import as many American stars as possible for their productions, to increase their chances abroad and generate more profits, this example being typical of those efforts. Securing Rogers was something of a coup, she may not have been enjoying her heyday by 1954, but she was still a very big star and a recognisable name, though you could tell the project was tiptoeing around her to keep her as happy as they could - see the opening five minutes where she got to show off her legs after emerging from the pool, just to prove that at forty-three years old, she had what it took in the glamour stakes even at this point in her career, with her dancing days far behind her.
And to her credit, and the credit of the makeup team, Ginger was retaining her well-scrubbed, blonde good looks, though here she was called upon to essay the kind of role that a Lana Turner or Joan Crawford would be moving into where the fans who had matured with her were keen to see her suffering in the lap of luxury rather than playing some drudge chained to the kitchen sink. It was a genre, kind of soap opera with added tensions and melodrama, even a film noir element, that would see many stars of her ilk keep their profiles visible as the pop culture began to change and the Golden Age of Hollywood gave way to... what? A Silver Age? Usually the leading ladies would be bolstered by some hunk or other, though in this case that was not Stanley Baker.
Mr Baker with grey streaks in his hair to look closer to Rogers' age, lest we forget. Anyway, though he appeared to be the leading man, Ginger had other ideas, as her then-husband Jacques Bergerac was cast as Johnny's other lover, a sculptor (!) who she meets after crashing her car, almost going over a cliff in the process. Bergerac's Pierre offers her some tender loving care and a pre-Patrick Swayze and Demi MooreGhost pottery lesson, and before you know it Johnny wants to break it off with Louis. All very soapy, more so than any moves towards thrills to be frank, so the labelling of this as a British noir was a misnomer, especially as it did not take place in Blighty, though the non-Riviera interiors were shot there. Adding a dash of intrigue was the ever-reliable Herbert Lom as a weak-willed criminal and old pal of Johnny's who steals the diamond bracelet Louis gifts her to give to Louis to settle his debts - not a great move, and results in the dodgy businessman flying into a rage, slapping her around, thereby making it all the clearer that she belongs with her French artist. It was all a bit silly, so tailored to its star that it was constrained by her, but for actor fanciers there was amusement to be had. Music by Malcolm Arnold, complete with ridiculous theme song co-written by José Ferrer!
[There's an image gallery and subtitles on Network's Blu-ray and DVD restoration for The British Film.]