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Sunday, April 3, 2016

HOUSE OF STRANGERS (1949)

After success as writer (mostly @ Paramount) and producer (mostly @ M-G-M), Joseph L. Mankiewicz went to 20th/Fox to teach himself direction, shooting five scripts he either hadn’t written or hadn’t initiated.* After that, strictly writer/director until the very end of his career, but never again showing the visual panache and energy he lavished on these ‘learning’ productions (with the possible exception of 5 FINGERS/’52). STRANGERS was the last of the five, a superb family drama (not the film noir it’s often called) about an Italian-American bank run by Edward G. Robinson, paterfamilias and immigrant striver, a force-of-nature type who runs roughshod over three seemingly docile sons, only to shower affection on independent lawyer son, Richard Conte. While that family dynamic plays out over the 1930s, a second, less involving storyline watches as society dame Susan Hayward & the already engaged Conte squabble their way thru a hot affair. (Hayward’s very good here, with a youthful plush tempering that hard exterior shell she wore over the fur coats.) The rest of the cast is (mostly) excellent, and Luther Adler a standout as the taken-for-granted eldest son. But it’s the general sweep of the film (in story & production, even without much in the way of period detail) that pulls you along, with superb high contrast lensing from Milton Krasner, back in NYC for some location shooting after doing the same on George Cukor's A DOUBLE LIFE/’48. Add in some intriguing premonitions of THE GODFATHER/’72 and you’ve got a film that deserves a lot more attention than it gets.

DOUBLE-BILL: Officially remade as a Western (BROKEN LANCE/’54); unofficially remade as a circus meller (THE BIG SHOW/’61). OR: See Susan Hayward play tough in another adaptation taken from a Jerome Weidman novel, I CAN GET IT FOR YOU WHOLESALE/’51.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Nice to see Edward G. Robinson’s Best Actor for this @ Cannes. Oscar® never even nominated the guy.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Mank also did an uncredited polish on THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR/’47, the best of the lot.

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