Book to Movie: Cry for the Strangers (1982)
Directed by Peter Medak
Teleplay by J.D. Feigelsen based on the book, Cry for the Strangers by John Saul
In 1982, John Saul’s best seller was made into a made for television movie starring Patrick Duffy. To date, it’s the only movie ever based on his work. One could only hope that Hollywood has not ignored John Saul based on this movie, because it’s not his fault it’s as bad as it is.
From beginning to end, this movie is just terrible. It sticks with the basic premise of the Saul story, but there is zero character development (and I mean absolutely NO character development) and we are given no clues as to what is going on. It's just a bunch of stuff that happened.
Admittedly, Saul introduced some premises that he left on the table, such as biorhythms and Indian curses. But this movie just leaves them all on the table. The final scene is Patrick Duffy, who played Brad Russell, explaining the whole thing to his wife – and to the audience.
It’s almost as if J.D. Feigelsen wrote his teleplay, went back to proofread it, and saw he had major plot holes. So, instead of developing some action or sequences to explain why all of these strangers are dying, he just has Patrick Duffy do a little narrative in the end.
Feigelsen also manages to eliminate the central conflict in the story which is the conflict between Sheriff Whalen and the Russells and Palmers. Whalen – played by Brian Keith – is just a bit player who comes off as dispassionate and unconcerned about everything going on around him. He has no malice toward strangers. He doesn’t carry out any malicious acts against strangers. He just tells everybody he doesn’t know what’s going on. This movie really need an antagonist to carry it and it doesn't have one.
This movie had no character development, a broken, linear plot, and no conflict. It made for a boring, bad movie that no one should watch.
The only compliment that can be given to this horrid movie is it is well shot. The village looks cold and foreboding in every shot. But even that gets screwed up by Feigelsen and director Peter Medak. In the book, both the cabin and the house were without utilities. The house, while structurally sound, was as primitive as the cabin. In their version of the story, the cabin is cozy and the house is luxurious.
At every turn, Feigelsen and Medak took Saul’s pretty decent story and screwed it up. John Saul should be angry and embarrassed.
Hollywood should take another look at Saul’s body of work and take two or three of his stories that would make for good teleplays or even motion pictures. Certainly Punish the Sinners would transfer well to visual. The Blackstone Chronicles has mini-series written all over it. In the right hands, these stories could work on film. Feigesen and Medak are not the right set of hands.