House of Strangers


1h 41m 1949
House of Strangers

Brief Synopsis

After years in prison, Max promises revenge on his brothers for their betrayal. His lover Irene and memories of his past yield him a broader perspective.

Film Details

Also Known As
East Side Story
Genre
Drama
Release Date
Jul 1, 1949
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 30 Jun 1949
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, United States; New York City--Little Italy, New York, United States; Santa Monica--Ocean Park, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel I'll Never Go There Any More by Jerome Weidman (New York, 1941).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 41m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9,075ft (11 reels)

Synopsis

In 1939, after serving seven years in prison, attorney Max Monetti returns to his deceased father Gino's trust and loan association in the East Side New York Italian neighborhood in which he grew up. His brothers, Joe, now the president of the bank, and Antonio and Pietro, the vice-presidents, welcome him with champagne, a cigar and a thousand dollars. Max refuses his brothers' offer of friendship and throws the money in the trash. After Max leaves, Tony is about to call a hit man, but Joe says they will keep it in the family. Max goes to the chic apartment of Irene Bennett, who is overjoyed when she comes home to find him in the shower. When she learns that he plans to carry out a vendetta against his brothers, however, Irene implores him to start over with her in San Francisco. The couple quarrel, after which Max returns to the old family house, where he sits beneath a portrait of Gino. As he plays his father's favorite opera record, Max remembers the past: In 1932, Gino acts like a beneficent despot to the neighborhood folk, making snap decisions concerning loans and terms of interest without maintaining sufficient written records. He treats Joe like a servant and insults the weak-willed Tony and Pietro, who works as a guard. During a family dinner, Max receives a call from Irene Bennett, a sultry new client who hired him that afternoon to take care of a matter involving an ex-lover. When she tells him it is an emergency, he goes to her apartment, where she attempts to get him to go to San Francisco with her. Although he is engaged to a beautiful Italian girl, Maria Domenico, Max soon begins an affair with Irene. When Maria's mother complains before the family about Max's affair, Gino counters that what a man does before marriage is nobody else's business. Maria vows never to marry anyone else and agrees to Gino's suggestion of a wedding the week after Easter, then kisses Max passionately. That night, Irene feels Max is preoccupied and tells him it will be their last night together. After not hearing from Irene for a week, Max goes to her apartment, where he meets Danny, to whom she has become engaged. Irene stops Danny and Max from fighting and tells Max that his father has been calling. At the bank, Gino tries to explain to a mob of customers that the state has closed it because he did not require collateral for the loans he has made. Although he promises that they will get their money, he is beaten until Max arrives and hurries him into the building. Max learns that Gino could be indicted on twenty-two counts, each of which carries a one-year sentence, because he has not recorded many of his transactions. Gino vows to sell everything to pay back his customers, but Max says that will not be enough to clear him. Max gets the idea to divide responsibility for the bank between Gino and the other three brothers, so that nothing definite can be pinned on any of them. Joe bitterly complains that Gino has always treated him as a servant and refuses. Pietro, upset that Gino has always called him "dumbhead," and Tony, who does not want to stick his neck out, go along with Joe. Gino berates them and agrees with Max that he has a "house of strangers," not sons. In court, Max represents Gino, who loses his temper when the prosecutor calls him a "lecherous moneylender and a disgrace to decent Italian Americans." Later, Max gives Joe an envelope filled with money to bribe the one seemingly sympathetic juror, but Joe refuses. Afterwards, Irene tells Max that she does not love Danny and used him because she was hurt. Max kisses her and she drives him to the juror's apartment in a run-down part of town. The juror is tempted by the bribe, as she is a widow with children, but she ultimately refuses the envelope. As he walks out the door, Max is placed under arrest by police for attempted bribery. At the bank, Gino learns that his wife, to whom he signed the bank over for protection, has herself signed it over to the three brothers. When Joe laughs at him in derision, Gino tries to choke him, but Pietro pulls him off. Swearing a vendetta, Gino visits Max in prison and tells him that Joe informed the police about the bribe and that Tony now plans to marry Maria. Max then reluctantly agrees to Gino's pleas that he take revenge upon his brothers. When Gino dies in 1934, Max is given a pass to visit the house, where the family surrounds Gino's body as it lies in state. Under Gino's portrait, Max stares intently at Joe, then bites his thumb, the sign of the vendetta. Theresa rebukes him, saying she now has no husband or family, and in Italian orders him to go. His reminiscences ended, Max converses with Gino's portrait and suggests a way to get back at his brothers: he could entice Maria, who has married Tony, to leave him and take their child with her, then create a scandal at the bank so that Joe would be indicted. Joe's wife would then leave him and Pietro would be lost. Max decides, however, that Joe can have the bank, Tony can have Maria, and Pietro, his job, as Max now has Irene. Max calls Irene as she is preparing to go to the airport, and she cries when he asks her to pick him up so they can go together. The brothers then arrive and Joe says he does not want to live with the worry that Max will take revenge on their families or the business. On Joe's orders, Pietro brutally beats Max until Tony says to stop. Joe then has Pietro carry Max upstairs, saying he learned from Gino to finish off the other guy while he is down. When Joe orders him to throw Max off the balcony, however, Pietro hesitates. Joe repeatedly calls Pietro "dumbhead," until Pietro puts Max down and chokes Joe. Max convinces him not to force Joe over the side by saying that he will be doing what Gino wants if he kills Joe. Irene soon arrives, and Max, smiling, gets into her convertible and they drive off.

Cast

Edward G. Robinson

Gino Monetti

Susan Hayward

Irene Bennett

Richard Conte

Max Monetti

Luther Adler

Joe Monetti

Paul Valentine

Pietro Monetti

Efrem Zimbalist Jr.

Antonio Monetti

Debra Paget

Maria Domenico

Hope Emerson

Helena Domenico

Esther Minciotti

Theresa Monetti

Diana Douglas

Elaine Monetti

Tito Vuolo

Lucca

Sid Tomack

Waiter

Thomas Browne Henry

Judge

David Wolfe

Prosecutor

John Kellogg

Danny

Ann Morrison

Woman juror

Dolores Parker

Nightclub singer

Tommy Garland

Pietro's opponent

Charles Flynn

Guard

Howard Mitchell

Guard

Phil Tully

Guard

Gaza De Rosner

Guard

Peter Mamakos

Guard

Joseph Mazzuca

Boy

John Pedrini

Policeman

George Magrill

Policeman

Michael Stark

Policeman

Charles Mcclelland

Policeman

James Little

Policeman

Argentina Brunetti

3rd applicant

Bob Castro

Preliminary fighter

Edward Saenz

Preliminary fighter

Dick Ryan

Announcer

Mushy Callahan

Referee

Herbert Vigran

Neighbor

Rhoda Williams

Girl

George Spaulding

Doorman

Donna La Tour

Chorus girl

Maxine Ardell

Chorus girl

Sally Yarnell

Chorus girl

Jeri Jordan

Chorus girl

Donna Hamilton

Chorus girl

Marjorie Holliday

Chorus girl

William Janssen

Chorus boy

Neil Carter

Chorus boy

John "red" Kullers

Taxi driver

Guy Thomajan

Taxi driver

Scott Landers

Detective

Fred Hillebrand

Detective

Arthur Space

Bank examiner

Roger Moore

Architect

Walter Lawrence

Vendor

Joe Rubino

Vendor

John Butler

Bartender

Dolores Castle

Secretary

Lelia Goldoni

Italian girl

Russ Cheever

Alto sax, offscreen

Mario Siletti

Maurice Samuels

Frank Jacquet

Larry Arnold

Charles Faris

Ford Rush

Vickie Vann

Tony Merlo

Ernesto Morelli

Nick Borgani

Mike Macy

Paul Bradley

Steve Cavaliere

Steve Soldi

Bob St. Angelo

Martin Begley

Carlo Tricoli

Petra Silva

Theresa Testa

Rena Marlin

Emma Palmese

Frank Wilcox

Gilda Oliva

Videos

Movie Clip

House Of Strangers (1949) - Vengeance Is A Rare Wine Susan Hayward, not yet identified as Irene, enters the uptown apartment where we’ve just seen Richard Conte, as newly paroled Max Monetti, arrive, after facing off with his brothers at their family-owned Lower Manhattan bank, and their first encounter, in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s House Of Strangers, 1949.
House Of Strangers (1949) - The Bank Will Open When I Get There Artful introduction of top-billed Edward G. Robinson as Gino Monetti (we’ve seen his portrait earlier, at the family-owned Manhattan bank), with Richard Conte as just-paroled son Max, visiting the vacant family home, and playing some Verdi, Joseph L. Mankiewicz directing, Luther Adler the elder son, in House Of Strangers, 1949.
House Of Strangers (1949) - Money Is A Great Cleanser Having jumped back in time at least seven years, to when Manhattan Italian banker Gino Monetti (Edward G. Robinson) lived, we see the first meeting of Susan Hayward as Irene and Richard Conte as his son and in-house lawyer Max, Paul Valentine as the younger brother and security guard, in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s House Of Strangers, 1949.
House Of Strangers (1949) - This Bank Stinks With Tradition From producer Sol Siegel and director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, opening with legit Little Italy location shots, Richard Conte on what looks like Mulberry St., entering the Monetti Loan & Trust, where we learn he’s Max, released from prison, visiting Joseph (Luther Adler) and brothers Pietro and Tony (Paul Valentine, Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), in House Of Strangers, 1949.

Film Details

Also Known As
East Side Story
Genre
Drama
Release Date
Jul 1, 1949
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 30 Jun 1949
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
New York City, New York, United States; New York City--Little Italy, New York, United States; Santa Monica--Ocean Park, California, United States
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel I'll Never Go There Any More by Jerome Weidman (New York, 1941).

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 41m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1
Film Length
9,075ft (11 reels)

Articles

House of Strangers -


Perhaps it's a case of influence and inspiration or simply the coincidence of a similar milieu for both stories, but the parallels are obvious between this 1949 drama and the novel and subsequent film of The Godfather (1972): the powerful Italian patriarch who rules his family-run business empire with an iron fist; the four sons and their varied roles and reputations within that realm; the favored son who has his own life and work outside the family business but is drawn into it when his father is in serious trouble; that son's "exile" after an illegal act on behalf of his father; the same son's relationship with both a girl of his ethnicity and a non-Italian who has no connection and stands in opposition to the world of his family. Both stories depict a close family torn apart by success achieved by illegal means that separates them from their once simple and happy life, as well as the resulting betrayal, fratricide (attempted or real) and long-held grievances and revenge. If that's not a clear enough connection, take a look at an early scene in House of Strangers in which banker-patriarch Edward G. Robinson hands out favors to less fortunate Italians, albeit with heavy strings attached, just as Don Corleone does at his daughter's wedding.

There is no coincidence at all, however, between the similarities of this King Lear-inspired story and Broken Lance (1954), with Spencer Tracy as an 1880s Arizona ranch patriarch and Robert Wagner, Richard Widmark, Hugh O'Brian and Earl Holliman as his sons. Richard Murphy based his screenplay for the Western on the House of Strangers screenplay credited to Philip Yordan ( Detective Story, 1951; Johnny Guitar, 1954; El Cid, 1961). Yordan ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story for the Tracy picture.

There's a certain irony to Yordan's win for a production in which he had no direct involvement and a story based on an earlier screenplay whose authorship has been a matter of dispute. Producer Sol C. Siegel hired Yordan to adapt Jerome Weidman's 1941 novel I'll Never Go There Any More with instructions to expand the role of the favored son, Max, who was not prominent in the original story. (Siegel likely had Yordan tame down or eliminate some of the source material's seamier and highly censorable elements.) According to Kenneth L. Geist's biography, Pictures Will Talk, about the film's director, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Yordan was fired after submitting three-quarters of the script, and Siegel had Mankiewicz reshape the story and redo all the dialogue. The Screen Writers Guild ruled Yordan receive sole story credit and that Yordan and Mankiewicz should share credit for the screenplay. Considering it his sole work, Mankiewicz refused to share credit and subsequently received none at all.

The Italian-ness of the story, setting and characters caused concern, just as it would years later for The Godfather. Production Code Director Joseph Breen wrote to MPAA head Eric Johnston shortly before principle photography began in December 1948: "In view of the great number of protests which, I understand, you are receiving at the present time, against the alleged unfavorable portrayals of Italians and Italian-Americans in motion pictures, I desire to direct your particular attention to a script which has been received from the Twentieth Century-Fox Corporation, carrying the title 'East Side Story' [the film's working title]. Almost all the characters in the story are either Italians or Italian-Americans, who, when they are not characterized as definitely reprehensible people, are, at least, unsympathetic.... We have no way under the Code to correct this. It occurs to us that this picture, because of these Italian characteristics, may suggest a question of industry policy and, in accordance with our long-established procedure, we are referring this question to you." Obviously, nothing was done to soften the depictions or their connections to Italian ethnicity, and the extensive location shooting took place in New York's Little Italy.

In any case, the film was well received, with Bosley Crowther in the New York Times calling it "a sizzling and picturesque exposure of a segment of nouveau-riche life within the Italian-American population." At the Cannes Film Festival, Edward G. Robinson won Best Actor and Mankiewicz was nominated for the Grand Prix.
The Godfather's narrative trajectory. Nevertheless, Conte gets third billing behind his on-screen love interest, Susan Hayward, continuing her rise to major stardom that began with an Academy Award nomination for Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman (1947). Two years after this film, Hayward appeared in I Can Get it for You Wholesale (1951), loosely adapted from another novel by Jerome Weidman. Conte's appearance as Don Barzini in The Godfather further cements the connection between the two movies.

The storyline got yet another reworking in the circus drama The Big Show (1961), starring Cliff Robertson, Esther Williams and Nehemiah Persoff in the Conte, Hayward and Robinson roles. Yordan and Weidman, however, did not receive any credit on that production.

The film was shot by cinematographer Milton Krasner, an Oscar winner for Three Coins in the Fountain (1954) and known for All About Eve (1950) and Fritz Lang's noir dramas The Woman in the Window (1944) and Scarlet Street (1945), both of which starred Robinson.

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Producer: Sol C. Siegel
Screenplay: Philip Yordan, from a novel by Jerome Weidman
Cinematography: Milton Krasner
Editing: Harmon Jones
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Lyle Wheeler
Music: Daniele Amfitheatrof
Cast: Edward G. Robinson (Gino Monetti), Susan Hayward (Irene Bennett), Richard Conte (Max Monetti), Luther Adler (Joe Monetti), Paul Valentine (Pietro Monetti), Efrem Zimbalist Jr. (Tony Monetti)

By Rob Nixon
House Of Strangers -

House of Strangers -

Perhaps it's a case of influence and inspiration or simply the coincidence of a similar milieu for both stories, but the parallels are obvious between this 1949 drama and the novel and subsequent film of The Godfather (1972): the powerful Italian patriarch who rules his family-run business empire with an iron fist; the four sons and their varied roles and reputations within that realm; the favored son who has his own life and work outside the family business but is drawn into it when his father is in serious trouble; that son's "exile" after an illegal act on behalf of his father; the same son's relationship with both a girl of his ethnicity and a non-Italian who has no connection and stands in opposition to the world of his family. Both stories depict a close family torn apart by success achieved by illegal means that separates them from their once simple and happy life, as well as the resulting betrayal, fratricide (attempted or real) and long-held grievances and revenge. If that's not a clear enough connection, take a look at an early scene in House of Strangers in which banker-patriarch Edward G. Robinson hands out favors to less fortunate Italians, albeit with heavy strings attached, just as Don Corleone does at his daughter's wedding. There is no coincidence at all, however, between the similarities of this King Lear-inspired story and Broken Lance (1954), with Spencer Tracy as an 1880s Arizona ranch patriarch and Robert Wagner, Richard Widmark, Hugh O'Brian and Earl Holliman as his sons. Richard Murphy based his screenplay for the Western on the House of Strangers screenplay credited to Philip Yordan ( Detective Story, 1951; Johnny Guitar, 1954; El Cid, 1961). Yordan ended up winning the Academy Award for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story for the Tracy picture. There's a certain irony to Yordan's win for a production in which he had no direct involvement and a story based on an earlier screenplay whose authorship has been a matter of dispute. Producer Sol C. Siegel hired Yordan to adapt Jerome Weidman's 1941 novel I'll Never Go There Any More with instructions to expand the role of the favored son, Max, who was not prominent in the original story. (Siegel likely had Yordan tame down or eliminate some of the source material's seamier and highly censorable elements.) According to Kenneth L. Geist's biography, Pictures Will Talk, about the film's director, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Yordan was fired after submitting three-quarters of the script, and Siegel had Mankiewicz reshape the story and redo all the dialogue. The Screen Writers Guild ruled Yordan receive sole story credit and that Yordan and Mankiewicz should share credit for the screenplay. Considering it his sole work, Mankiewicz refused to share credit and subsequently received none at all. The Italian-ness of the story, setting and characters caused concern, just as it would years later for The Godfather. Production Code Director Joseph Breen wrote to MPAA head Eric Johnston shortly before principle photography began in December 1948: "In view of the great number of protests which, I understand, you are receiving at the present time, against the alleged unfavorable portrayals of Italians and Italian-Americans in motion pictures, I desire to direct your particular attention to a script which has been received from the Twentieth Century-Fox Corporation, carrying the title 'East Side Story' [the film's working title]. Almost all the characters in the story are either Italians or Italian-Americans, who, when they are not characterized as definitely reprehensible people, are, at least, unsympathetic.... We have no way under the Code to correct this. It occurs to us that this picture, because of these Italian characteristics, may suggest a question of industry policy and, in accordance with our long-established procedure, we are referring this question to you." Obviously, nothing was done to soften the depictions or their connections to Italian ethnicity, and the extensive location shooting took place in New York's Little Italy. In any case, the film was well received, with Bosley Crowther in the New York Times calling it "a sizzling and picturesque exposure of a segment of nouveau-riche life within the Italian-American population." At the Cannes Film Festival, Edward G. Robinson won Best Actor and Mankiewicz was nominated for the Grand Prix.

House of Strangers - Edward G. Robinson in HOUSE OF STRANGERS on DVD


Joseph Mankiewicz' House of Strangers is a solid drama, that's for sure. But you could build arguments for or against its inclusion in the Fox Film Noir series of DVDs. Despite the terse lead performance of Richard Conte (whose Mr. Brown in The Big Combo is among the all-time great noir heavies) and a noir-friendly flashback structure, this is really borderline noir. It sometimes shares elements often found in noir, like its very brooding climax and its break-of-day final images, but House of Strangers isn't trying to be noir. It doesn't have the visual tension of most noir, and while noir is usually about characters falling prey to the temptation of greed, lust, anger, envy and other unchecked sins, the 1949 drama actually takes its hero on a path to overcoming such temptation.

The movie's quality makes the noir-or-not argument an interesting topic to ponder, not a make-or-break issue. From the moment you see hotheaded Max Moretti (Conte) hurriedly walk through the downscale Lower East Side and stop in front of a better-heeled block housing the bank run by his three brothers (Luther Adler, Paul Valentine, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.), it's hard not to be hooked by this guy's story. It turns out Max has just finished a seven-year stint in jail and has a beef against his brothers, something involving their late father (Edward G. Robinson) and a case of betrayal. When the movie launches into an extended flashback that comprises about three-quarters of its 100 minutes, House of Strangers fills us in: their bullheaded, old-country dad built himself up from a barber into a banker, never giving the three sons who work at the bank any power and respecting only the one who doesn't work there, Max, a shady lawyer he lets work out of an office inside the bank. When the bank authorities come after the domineering dad for his unorthodox practices (giving loans on hunches, not collateral; primitive bookkeeping), only Max rallies behind his dad. When the trial is going badly and desperate Max tries to bribe a juror, older brother Joseph (Adler) tips off police and Max is arrested.

Within this family story, which often pits tradition against assimilation, House of Strangers weaves a romance between Max and Irene (Susan Hayward) that can be its most interesting and least interesting ingredient. Irene has no business being in the movie so much, and the movie struggles to shoehorn her into the family story, having her help Max in moments where he could just as easily be alone (apparently, Hayward had just signed a studio contract with Fox, and when Mankiewicz rewrote Philip Yordan's screenplay, he boosted her role). But Conte and Hayward have such great chemistry that their scenes are often the most lively in the movie. Each excelled at playing street-smart characters, and each gets to do so here. Their characters' dialogue also seems much more energized than anything else in the movie. "'Vengeance is a rare wine, a joy divine,' says the Arab. 'I'm sure gonna get drunk on it!'" he spits to her at their first reunion after his prison release. Hayward matches his intensity. After all, how many actresses could play characters who get slapped in the face and then grin back at their striker, as Hayward does in the same scene? There's nothing noir about the romance (Irene is in no way a femme fatale), but its roller-derby antagonism is appreciated.

The writing in the Max-Irene scenes certainly outdoes that in Edward G. Robinson's scenes. Although I wouldn't fault the actor too heavily, I couldn't help but cringe when old man Moretti's entrance finds him singing an aria in the bathtub. You might as well have him pressing grapes in the tub, while you're at it. The heavy-handed ethnic touches make Moretti a less powerful character than the similarly self-made, hurt dad Robinson played the year before in All My Sons. But the immigrant clichés Moretti embodies don't sink the story, and ultimately the old man is more important for the negative emotions he inadvertently stirs in all of his sons than for his less original traits. (House of Strangers was remade, sans ethnicities, as the inferior 1954 western Broken Lance, with Spencer Tracy as a rancher who's bullied his sons.)

Interestingly, the most noir character in House of Strangers isn't Max, but Joe, the oldest son who's belittled by his dad, stews in silent despair and then lets his dad be eaten alive. He then gathers the pieces of his dad's fallen empire and rebuilds them for himself, lashing out violently once Max, the one man who can make trouble for him, returns. Luther Adler plays Joe with the wounded pride of Thomas Gomez, and if Joe had gotten more to do and Mankiewicz had taken more of a noir approach to House of Strangers, the movie might be in the league of Gomez' shining moment in the noir sun, Force of Evil. But Mankiewicz is after something else here, and the All About Eve writer-director generally succeeds.

In addition to a trailer and galleries of posters and photos, the House of Strangers DVD includes an audio commentary by author Foster Hirsch. He thinks House of Strangers is noir... and he's partially right.

To order House of Strangers, go to TCM Shopping.

by Paul Sherman

House of Strangers - Edward G. Robinson in HOUSE OF STRANGERS on DVD

Joseph Mankiewicz' House of Strangers is a solid drama, that's for sure. But you could build arguments for or against its inclusion in the Fox Film Noir series of DVDs. Despite the terse lead performance of Richard Conte (whose Mr. Brown in The Big Combo is among the all-time great noir heavies) and a noir-friendly flashback structure, this is really borderline noir. It sometimes shares elements often found in noir, like its very brooding climax and its break-of-day final images, but House of Strangers isn't trying to be noir. It doesn't have the visual tension of most noir, and while noir is usually about characters falling prey to the temptation of greed, lust, anger, envy and other unchecked sins, the 1949 drama actually takes its hero on a path to overcoming such temptation. The movie's quality makes the noir-or-not argument an interesting topic to ponder, not a make-or-break issue. From the moment you see hotheaded Max Moretti (Conte) hurriedly walk through the downscale Lower East Side and stop in front of a better-heeled block housing the bank run by his three brothers (Luther Adler, Paul Valentine, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.), it's hard not to be hooked by this guy's story. It turns out Max has just finished a seven-year stint in jail and has a beef against his brothers, something involving their late father (Edward G. Robinson) and a case of betrayal. When the movie launches into an extended flashback that comprises about three-quarters of its 100 minutes, House of Strangers fills us in: their bullheaded, old-country dad built himself up from a barber into a banker, never giving the three sons who work at the bank any power and respecting only the one who doesn't work there, Max, a shady lawyer he lets work out of an office inside the bank. When the bank authorities come after the domineering dad for his unorthodox practices (giving loans on hunches, not collateral; primitive bookkeeping), only Max rallies behind his dad. When the trial is going badly and desperate Max tries to bribe a juror, older brother Joseph (Adler) tips off police and Max is arrested. Within this family story, which often pits tradition against assimilation, House of Strangers weaves a romance between Max and Irene (Susan Hayward) that can be its most interesting and least interesting ingredient. Irene has no business being in the movie so much, and the movie struggles to shoehorn her into the family story, having her help Max in moments where he could just as easily be alone (apparently, Hayward had just signed a studio contract with Fox, and when Mankiewicz rewrote Philip Yordan's screenplay, he boosted her role). But Conte and Hayward have such great chemistry that their scenes are often the most lively in the movie. Each excelled at playing street-smart characters, and each gets to do so here. Their characters' dialogue also seems much more energized than anything else in the movie. "'Vengeance is a rare wine, a joy divine,' says the Arab. 'I'm sure gonna get drunk on it!'" he spits to her at their first reunion after his prison release. Hayward matches his intensity. After all, how many actresses could play characters who get slapped in the face and then grin back at their striker, as Hayward does in the same scene? There's nothing noir about the romance (Irene is in no way a femme fatale), but its roller-derby antagonism is appreciated. The writing in the Max-Irene scenes certainly outdoes that in Edward G. Robinson's scenes. Although I wouldn't fault the actor too heavily, I couldn't help but cringe when old man Moretti's entrance finds him singing an aria in the bathtub. You might as well have him pressing grapes in the tub, while you're at it. The heavy-handed ethnic touches make Moretti a less powerful character than the similarly self-made, hurt dad Robinson played the year before in All My Sons. But the immigrant clichés Moretti embodies don't sink the story, and ultimately the old man is more important for the negative emotions he inadvertently stirs in all of his sons than for his less original traits. (House of Strangers was remade, sans ethnicities, as the inferior 1954 western Broken Lance, with Spencer Tracy as a rancher who's bullied his sons.) Interestingly, the most noir character in House of Strangers isn't Max, but Joe, the oldest son who's belittled by his dad, stews in silent despair and then lets his dad be eaten alive. He then gathers the pieces of his dad's fallen empire and rebuilds them for himself, lashing out violently once Max, the one man who can make trouble for him, returns. Luther Adler plays Joe with the wounded pride of Thomas Gomez, and if Joe had gotten more to do and Mankiewicz had taken more of a noir approach to House of Strangers, the movie might be in the league of Gomez' shining moment in the noir sun, Force of Evil. But Mankiewicz is after something else here, and the All About Eve writer-director generally succeeds. In addition to a trailer and galleries of posters and photos, the House of Strangers DVD includes an audio commentary by author Foster Hirsch. He thinks House of Strangers is noir... and he's partially right. To order House of Strangers, go to TCM Shopping. by Paul Sherman

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

The working title of this film was East Side Story. A November 4, 1941 Hollywood Reporter news item announced that Warner Bros. had acquired the screen rights to the film, but a week later, it was stated that the rights were still available and that three companies were bidding for them. According to information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, Siegel took out a three-month option for Weidman's novel in September 1947. Jerome Cady prepared a story outline for Siegel in October 1947, but it is doubtful that he contributed to the finished film. Various August 1948 news items announced that Victor Mature was to star in the film. According to a modern source, Siegel had screenwriter Philip Yordan expand the role of "Max," the lawyer son, who was only involved in a small portion of Weidman's novel. Modern sources state that director Joseph Mankiewicz rewrote all of Yordan's dialogue, but this has not been confirmed. According to modern sources, the screen titles were to credit Yordan with the original story and both Yordan and Mankiewicz with the screenplay, but Mankiewicz objected and ultimately was not listed in the credits for any writing duties.
       According to information in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the first screenplay submitted was deemed "unacceptable" because of the "illicit sex relation between the two leads, Irene and Max." Correspondence relates that the script was altered to indicate that "Irene" and "Danny" were not actually married. Concerned about the depiction of Italian Americans in the screenplay, PCA Director Joseph I. Breen wrote the following in a letter on the subject to MPAA head Eric Johnston on December 8, 1948: "In view of the great number of protests which, I understand, you are receiving at the present time, against the alleged unfavorable portrayals of Italians and Italian-Americans in motion pictures, I desire to direct your particular attention to a script which has been received from the Twentieth Century-Fox Corporation, carrying the title, "East Side Story." This is a low-pitched story of a family of Italian-Americans, residing in what is, suggestively, the east side district of New York City....Almost all the characters in the story are either Italians or Italian-Americans, who, when they are not characterized as definitely reprehensible people, are, at least, unsympathetic....With regard to the general overall unfavorable portrayal of the Italian-Americans, it is our thought that we have no way under the Code to correct this. It occurs to us that this picture, because of these Italian characteristics, May suggest a question of industry policy and, in accordance with our long-established procedure, we are referring this question to you." No information concerning any change in industry policy regarding the depiction of Italians or Italian Americans has been found.
       In March 1949, Twentieth Century-Fox music director Alfred Newman secured permission from opera singer Lawrence Tibbett for background use of a recording he made of the aria "Largo al Factotum" from Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville) for the 1935 Twentieth Century-Fox film Metropolitan (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.2843). Tibbett agreed in exchange for the right to use the Metropolitan soundtrack for a radio series he was planning. Tibbett wrote, "If the soundtrack is properly used in your picture I would want and expect due credit and billing since these are among my finest recordings." The studio agreed and Tibbett was given appropriate screen credit.
       Publicity for the film stated that a number of supporting players came from the New York Italian theater, and commented, "The picture continued the trend toward the use of foreign language dialogue on the screen, if the part and situation call for it. At one time, Hollywood carefully deleted all phrases from the script that were not in English but The Razor's Edge broke away from the convention by permitting its French characters to speak French." Scenes were shot at a number of Manhattan locations, including the Second Avenue Baths and others in Little Italy. The Ocean Park Arena in Ocean Park, CA was used for the boxing scenes. Mushy Callahan, a former welterweight champion, played the referee in the film and trained Paul Valentine, who played "Pietro Monetti," and Susan Hayward, who in her role of "Irene" had to hit Richard Conte. Tommy Garland, who played "Pietro's" opponent in the ring, was a Los Angeles heavyweight boxer. Albert Morin played the role of "Vittoro," a man to whom "Gino" loaned money at a large rate of interest, but his appearane was cut from the final film. Edward G. Robinson was awarded the Best Actor award when the film was exhibited at the Cannes Film Festival.
       According to a modern source, production head Darryl F. Zanuck wanted the family in the film to parallel the founders of the Bank of America, the Giannini family. The Gianninis objected, as did Twentieth Century-Fox's president, Spyros P. Skouras, who thought that his own family was the source of the "Monettis." Lux Radio Theatre presented a radio version of the film on October 16, 1950, starring Richard Conte, Anne Baxter and Hazel Shaw. A radio version was also broadcast by the Screen Guild Players on January 25, 1951, starring Victor Mature, Edward G. Robinson and June Havoc. In 1954, Twentieth Century-Fox based the film Broken Lance on Yordan's screenplay, without crediting Weidman. That film was directed by Edward Dmytryk and starred Spencer Tracy and Robert Wagner. A television version, entitled "The Last Patriarch," was broadcast on the 20th Century Fox Hour on November 30, 1956. It starred Walter Slezak, John Cassavetes and Vince Edwards. The 1961 Twentieth Century-Fox production The Big Show, directed by James B. Clark and starring Esther Williams, Cliff Robertson and Nehemiah Persoff, is said by modern sources to be based on the same novel.