House of Strangers (1949)

“Nothing hurts me, Max; that’s one of my complications.”

Synopsis:
The favored son (Richard Conte) of a crooked Italian-American banker (Edward G. Robinson) emerges from jail determined to seek revenge on his resentful brothers (Luther Adler, Paul Valentine, and Efrem Zimablist Jr.) — but as he reflects back on his romance with a beautiful socialist (Susan Hayward) and his engagement to a loyal Italian girl (Debra Paget), he considers the various trade-offs he’s made in his life, and choices become more complex.

Genres:

Review:
Screenwriter Philip Yordan scripted numerous noteworthy outings — including Dillinger (1945), Detective Story (1951), Johnny Guitar (1954), The Big Combo (1955), The Man From Laramie (1955), The Harder They Fall (1956), King of Kings (1961), El Cid (1961), 55 Days at Peking (1963), and The Fall of the Roman Empire (1964), among many others — in addition to being the “front name” for numerous blacklisted writers. He also penned this intriguing tale, directed (and substantially rewritten) by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, of first generation familial loyalty tested in the face of both broader ethics and romantic interests, a la The Godfather (1972). As with Donald Crisp in Anthony Mann’s The Man From Laramie (1955), the patriarch here (Robinson) is presented as both complicated and somewhat sympathetic, and Robinson’s performance is as nuanced and passionate as one might expect. Unfortunately, the uninteresting romance between Conte and Hayward ends up taking center stage, when what we really want is to see more of his brothers. Luther Adler (acting coach Stella Adler’s real-life brother) is particularly good in the challenging role of a man seeking “justifiable” revenge after being belittled for years; it would be fascinating to hear this entire story from his perspective.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Edward G. Robinson as Papa Monetti
  • Luther Adler as Joe Monetti
  • Atmospheric cinematography and direction

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly worth a one-time look.

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One Response to “House of Strangers (1949)”

  1. A once-must, mainly for the performances. As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “That Monetti touch. If they’d only let you kiss the jury.”

    ‘House of Strangers’ (1949): A year before his masterpiece ‘All About Eve’, Joseph Mankiewicz helmed this screen adaptation (credited to Philip Yordan but which, apparently, Mankiewicz completely rewrote), dealing with tension, rivalry and betrayal inside an Italian banking family steamrolled into submission by its iron-fisted patriarch (Edward G. Robinson, who won Best Actor at Cannes). There are four sons (Richard Conte, Luther Adler, Paul Valentine & Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) but Dad only respects the one who became a lawyer (Conte); he browbeats the others for being under-achievers… until there’s trouble with the government… which turns the main family home into a house of cards. …There’s an occasional tinge of ‘convenient for dramatic effect’ in the script but the film’s strength is its depiction of the dark family dynamics. There’s also quite a bit of terse, flies-like-bullets dialogue – which gets particular zap / pow delivery by Conte and tough-as-nails love interest Susan Hayward (giving one of her best performances).

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