"This gripping and highly entertaining film noir, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz ("Somewhere in the Night", "A Letter to Three Wives", "All About Eve", "No Way Out") has three oscar-worthy performances, great music, and superb cinematography. The script has some of the sharpest, hardboiled dialogue of any film from that period. Richard Conte and Susan Hayward were terrific as usual, but the scene-stealer award should go to Edward G. Robinson who gave one of his very best performances. In addition to this movie, throughout the 1940's and 1950's Robinson appeared in numerous film noirs: "Double Indemnity" (1944), "Woman in the Window" (1944), "Scarlet Street" (1945), "The Stranger" (1946), "The Red House" (1947), "All My Sons" (1948), "Key Largo" (1948), "Night Has a Thousand Eyes" (1948), "The Glass Web" (1953), "Black Tuesday" (1954), "Tight Spot" (1955), "Illegal" (1955), and "Seven Thieves" (1960).
Max Monetti (Richard Conte) has just been released after spending seven years in jail. Soon it becomes clear to the viewer that Max's three brothers, Joe (Luther Adler), Pietro (Paul Valentine), and Tony (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), are to blame for Max losing seven years of his life. Through a lengthy flashback, the story of Max's downfall is explained. The bank that his three brothers had taken over originally belonged to their intimidating father Gino (Edward G. Robinson), who worked his sons hard and frequently insulted them. The only one Gino treated with kindness was Max, who earned his living as an intelligent but very cynical lawyer. Max had been engaged but was soon involved with another woman, the beautiful Irene Bennett (Susan Hayward). This was only the first in a series of big changes in Max's life.
Then it happened. His father was arrested for his illegal financial practices at his bank, and his sons (all except for Max), eager to get back at their father, became the new owners. Throughout the trial Max had been Gino's only supporter, and when things started to look hopeless for his father Max resorted to trying to bribe one of the jurors. Betrayed by one of his brothers who'd tipped the police off, Max is caught and convicted. Meanwhile, his father is found "not guilty" but is virtually a prisoner of his three angry sons who seek revenge for years of verbal abuse from him. Gino fills Max's head with the idea of paying his brothers back after he's released from jail, but before he's free his hate-filled father dies. Only Irene Bennett has the power to stop Max from killing his own brothers, but I won't spoil the ending.
"House of Strangers" is definitely a classic noir, but it does have two main flaws: Max (Richard Conte) takes a brutal beating near the end of the movie and it seemed totally unnecessary given the fact that Max had already spent seven years in prison (For Heaven's sake, the man had already suffered enough!). Plus, and I know this may not disappoint all viewers, the bad guys don't get punished, something very rare and unusual for film noir. But flaws aside, this is a very good movie with superb acting from Edward G. Robinson, Richard Conte, and Susan Hayward. It's simply amazing how these three spit out their lines so easily, and the movie itself reminds me a lot of "The Godfather" (which also has Richard Conte). And who would've thought that Robinson could be so convincing playing an Italian?!? Highly recommended."
A must, despite the pallid commentary
J. W. Hickey | Manhattan area | 06/16/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a film I'd only caught TV fragments of, decades ago. I'd watched enough back then to know I wanted to add it to my home collection, but I held off buying the videotape version because the video was available at an outrageously high price. I've come to appreciate the voiceover commentaries Fox provides on many of its re-releases so, when Fox announced it was making a reasonably priced DVD of it available, I pre-ordered it a month before its release. The movie itself is excellent in every respect. The commentary, though, is not up to the usual Fox standards.
The commentary complains that Susan Hayward's character doesn't fit the femme fatale prototype for noir and thus she has too much screen time. However, as commentary on other Fox noirs has pointed out, the supportive "good girl" love interest is as much a part of the noir tradition as the wise-cracking torch singer; and clearly Hayward's role was (expertly) expanded to augment her star development, much as was done somewhat earlier for Lauren Bacall in THE BIG SLEEP.
Hayward's savvy dialogue imbues her character with the sassy edge one expects of a noir femme fatale, suggesting that she's a capable match for the protagonist in the boudoir. But the commentary misreads the scene where her lover (Conte) reacquaints himself with the sexual atmosphere of her apartment after a seven-year absence. This is not a tense, foreboding mood (especially in contrast to the menacing gloom when he enters his parents' "dark old house" in the sequence that follows this one), as he pockets her lipstick kiss on a discarded tissue and then nonchalantly slips out of his clothes to take a shower. And Hayward's leer and self-hug when she realizes who has broken into her bedroom and is naked in the next room leaves little doubt about the extent of the reunion that takes place between the slow dissolve and the next scene we share with them.
Robinson clearly deserved an Oscar for his performance as the patriarch--his fluid Italian, his courage for a couple near-nude scenes, and his characteristic good acting, especially when he'd get that trademark thrush in his voice to convey deep emotions. And, of course, this is the supreme Richard Conte picture.
I was puzzled by the music used for the final shots of the movie. I knew I'd heard the music somewhere, but the DVD commentary merely continues rattling on plot description. I checked the other credits of composer Daniele Amfitheatrof and, though impressed by his list of accomplishments, found no other film title that matched up with that fade-out music. Only while writing this amazon.com blurb did I recall that it's the same music that ended the Fox classic THE RAZOR'S EDGE three years earlier. Amazon.com lists that film's director as the composer of the music for EDGE; but, while Goulding did write the popular songs for that production, the theme at the close of EDGE and of HOUSE is by Alfred Newman. Looks like Yordan (instead of director Mankiewicz) taking credit for the script of HOUSE OF STRANGERS is not the only cover-up associated with the Mankiewicz movie.
HOUSE OF STRANGERS doesn't "feel like" a noir film to me. Conte's protagonist is not really an anti-hero, is always a confident professional rather than haunted with self-doubt and hunted as a victim of legit society. Part family drama and part gangster picture, HOUSE lacks such noir staples as fancy nightclubs (though the speakeasy depicted economically conveys a seedy noir clientele); thug beatings that result in the hero being bandaged by the vapid good girl who believes in him; or a sense that the whole world (not just his brothers and his father's ghost) is out for the hero's blood. Yes he makes a bad choice and is jailed for it, but this plot detail does not exploit the usual noir wormwood. And yes, the story suggests such devices of Greek tragedy as hubris and inescapable Fate, but without the "cold city" lewdness the genre so often prefers. Ultimately it's KING LEAR (with two weak middle sons subbing for one of Lear's thankless daughters) meets THE GODFATHER.
This DVD's big disappointment remains the commentary. Amid patches of silence, occasional observations state obvious ways that the framing and editing advance the plot. But that shouldn't detract from the five stars this movie deserves. Full-blown noir or not, just skip the voiceover commentary and enjoy the film as is. "
The Immigrant Experience as Greek Tragedy.
mirasreviews | McLean, VA USA | 08/24/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
""House of Strangers" is based on the novel "I'll Never Go There Again" by Pulitzer prize-winning playwright and novelist Jerome Weidman, who wrote about the immigrant experience in New York City in the early 20th century, particularly the Jewish immigrant experience. This screenplay is credited solely to Philip Yordan, but director Joseph Mankiewicz actually wrote the final version of the script. Jerome Weidman's book is about a Jewish banking family who were changed to Italians for the film. If that was in order to avoid controversy, it didn't quite work. The Giannini family, who founded Bank of America, complained to 20th Century Fox that the family in the film resembled theirs. But they were outdone by the studio chairman himself, Spyrus Skouras, who thought the fictional Monetti family was his. So he limited the film's release. That's unfortunate, because "House of Strangers" has some wonderful performances, including one that earned Edward G. Robinson a Best Actor award at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival.
Seven years after he went to prison for attempting to bribe a juror, Max Monetti (Richard Conte) returns to New York with vengeance on his mind, directed at his brother Joe (Luther Adler), whom Max believes gave the police the tip that put him away. His old flame Irene Bennett (Susan Hayward), a sharp-tongued uptown girl, wants Max to abandon thoughts of vengeance and start a new life with her. As Max listens to his deceased father's opera records, we travel back in time to when family patriarch Gino Monetti (Edward G. Robinson), a poor barber-turned-rich-banker, held his immigrant clients and his 4 sons under his sway. -Except for Max, whose forceful personality made him his father's favorite, immune to the petty abuses and selfish whims suffered by Joe, Antonio (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.), and Pietro (Paul Valentine) . When the State investigated the bank's lending practices, the bitterness that Gino's ill treatment had sowed became apparent.
"House of Strangers" is sometimes called film noir, probably because of Max's subjective, introverted perspective of the corrosive Monetti family dynamics. But this isn't even a crime film. Its strongest elements by far are Greek Tragedy, but "House of Strangers" is also part immigrant experience and part romance. The sins of the father are visited upon the sons, and the 3 main players in that drama -Gino, Max, and Joe- are memorable. Edward G. Robinson's performance is a bit theatrical, but Gino's character is so poisonous and his emotions so vivid that it doesn't matter if he is over-the-top. His lecture about the differences between the Old World and the New is a hoot too. Luther Adler impresses in the small but delicate part of Joe, the scorned son. The interaction between Max and Irene seems superfluous, as if it were transposed from another story. A lot of dialogue that was unmistakably written by Mankiewicz comes out of Irene's mouth. There is some good stuff, but Irene talks too much. "House of Strangers" is a fine Greek Tragedy and a harsh take on an immigrant family that made good.
The DVD (20th Century Fox 2006): Bonus features are a theatrical trailer (2 ½ min), a Poster Gallery of 4 b&w posters, a (mislabeled) Production Stills Gallery of 10 behind-the-scenes photos, a (mislabeled) Unit Photography Gallery of 23 production stills, and an audio commentary by film historian Foster Hirsch. The commentary isn't non-stop, but Hirsch analyzes the composition, framing, blocking, and any technique used to illustrate the film's themes for many scenes. He also comments on characters and provides background information on the film and actors. Subtitles are available for the film in English and Spanish."
Tom Provost | Glendale, CA USA | 08/10/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This movie is just superb. I can't believe I had not even heard of it, hopefully this DVD release will help it find a new audience and some deserved critical acclaim. It's billed as film noir, but it really isn't; it's more an extremely complex, suspenseful family drama. But that doesn't even do it justice. The screenplay is terrific, subtle, thoughtful, and at the same time, razor sharp. Some of the exchanges between Conte and Hayward in particular are electrifying. Talk about two `tough cookies' that ignite when they get together. And you really begin to care deeply about what happens to them. (All of the acting is top notch, across the board.) And then there is the direction by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. The movie is so beautifully crafted and feels as if it could have been made yesterday, it's gritty and urban and fresh. The composition in the movie has deep meaning in just about every shot, and is gorgeous to behold besides. Watch this movie."
Edward G. steals the show
Cory D. Slipman | Rockville Centre, N.Y. | 12/30/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
""House of Strangers" commences with Richard Conte playing disgraced lawyer Max Monetti visiting his three brothers Joe, Tony and Pietro in the bank that they own. He's just been released from prison and apparently has vengeance on his mind. After his less than cordial call he proceeds to return to the now deserted family homestead. He has a flashback and we learn what has caused his predicament.
Conte's father is Gino Monetti played with complete aplomb by the incomparable Edward G. Robinson. Gino Monetti is as old world Italian immigrant who elevated himself from being a poor barber to a rich banker on New York's Lower East Side. Robinson was not wise to the banking laws and would loan money to people without collateral and at unregulated usurious rates. He eventually was investigated and brought up on charges. Lawyer Max came to his rescue being the only son of four that rated his father's respect. His brothers had been berated and treated poorly by Robinson, who felt he had good reason to do so.
The three brothers did nothing to help at the trial and things were going badly. Conte took a chance and attempted to bribe a juror, got caught and imprisoned for seven years. Meanwhile Robinson had his bank stolen from him by his sons and lived out the rest of his days embittered with hatred in his heart.
Conte's gorgeous girlfriend Irene played by the stunning Susan Hayward waited for him all those long years and seemed to be the tonic that would allow him to start life anew and forsake his brothers.
Director Joseph Mankiewicz did a nice job coordinating the heated interactions between his characters to create a story of a once close family torn apart by jealousy, resent and greed. The Romanian born Robinson makes the whole movie with his very convincing portrayal of an old school Italian complete with accent and mannerisms."