Watched Stranger on the Prowl and The Pawnbroker last night.
The Pawnbroker is definitely superior in presentation, though that comes to no surprise given the the circumstances behind Stranger on the Prowl. As far as Olive transfers go, this one is another very good transfer which does the on-location setting particular benefit. It's also a very good Lumet-style drama that was in many ways ahead of the curve in Hollywood. It succeeds very well as a novel adaptation. The film is unique in the way it handles the source material yet just as hard-hitting.
It's not hard to imagine that Rod Steiger's eventual Academy Award victory was at least partially influenced by his nomination being passed up for this film.
Stranger on the Prowl doesn't fare as well as The Pawnbroker though it is also a lesser known film that is technically a foreign film. What we have presented on the disc is an English language version distributed through NTA, this NTA version being a reissue print of the original English distribution through United Artist. It's obviously not originally released through NTA because there's a noticeably jump cut and improvement in visual clarity once the opening cast and staff credits roll.
Despite this, the video quality itself is pretty good and better than some other Olive films. There are plenty of scratches and film dirt to be sure but the film sharpness and clarity is there behind it. Audio is similarly rough--its good, but sometimes under some crackle and hiss. And this is all to be expected of a film this rarely screened, generally neglected and never on home video until now, plus being a second or third generation master from inception. The cards were already stacked against it, yet it is still easily watchable with reasonably decent audio. The best we'll likely ever get barring an extremely unlikely massive restoration or a pristine print turning up out of nowhere.
Don't let the "English language version" aspect mislead expectations--this is in full English speech, not a spaghetti western style mixing of dubs and one or two real English speaking actors. All of the main actors appear to be speaking English, and pretty well too considering near everyone outside of Muni is native Italian. There is some smattering of Italian here and there (it is in Italy after all) but always just a line or two.
The film itself is quite good for what it is. Anyone looking for a lost masterpiece or trying to stack it up with a similar film like The Bicycle Thief will likely be at least a little disappointed, but those looking for a solid B-genre film will likely be satisfied. I found the performances good all around including the child actor played by Vittorio Manunta. Paul Muni tends to be belittled because his strong theater background shows in this on-screen performances, yet I personally found found that his performance here was quite good, striking a fine balance between desperation and resignation. He also had some nice chemistry with Manunta. This film also sports some great on-location scenery of a post-war urban Italian city--a very fitting setting for this sort of film.
The issue I had with the film was how the Italian (or the U.S. distribution company) handled the post-production audio. It's often poorly mixed with the dialogue and tends to begin and cut off abruptly. It sometimes has a tinny and intrusive quality that can take away from the experience. This is not an issue I had with Losey's Hollywood films. Likely a byproduct of the low-budget, scruffy nature of this production.
Lastly it's kinda fascinating as the product of a recently blacklisted director. It has all the earmarks: foreign studio and production credits, fellow blacklisted writer, "greylisted" starring actor. Screenwriter Ben Barzman's own sour grapes as a blacklisted writer appears to seem through the narrative in parallel to Muni's vagrant "forgotten man" portrayal.