Three Strangers (1946)

Three Strangers (1946)

“We’re three strangers — that’s the point.”

On Chinese New Year, three strangers — a socially-aspiring attorney (Sydney Greenstreet), the wealthy wife (Geraldine Fitzgerald) of a philanderer (Alan Napier), and a petty thief (Peter Lorre) — share in the outcome of a lottery ticket after praying to a goddess of fortune.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Geraldine Fitzgerald Films
  • Jean Negulesco Films
  • John Huston Films
  • Peter Lorre Films
  • Sydney Greenstreet Films

Jean Negulesco directed this atmospheric, fast-paced thriller, based on a script by John Huston and Howard Koch and featuring Maltese Falcon (1941) co-stars Sydney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre (as well as luminous Geraldine Fitzgerald, who seemed to specialize in playing women with a potentially loose screw). Huston and Koch’s tight screenplay intrigues and invites from the very beginning; we’re held captive throughout, wondering what will befall each of our hapless, all-too-human protagonists. There’s really not a false step taken here, with uniformly strong performances, atmospheric cinematography (by Arthur Edeson), and a satisfyingly ruthless screenplay, complete with potent character names (“Crystal Shackleford”, “Icey Crane”, etc.). Enjoy this one!

Note: Warner Brothers teamed Lorre and Greenstreet in one other title — 1944’s The Mask of Dimitrios, also directed by Negulesco and listed in Peary’s GFTFF.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Excellent performances by the three leads
  • Fine cinematography by Arthur Edeson

Must See?
Yes, as a most enjoyable sleeper.


  • Good Show


One thought on “Three Strangers (1946)

  1. A very much recommended once-must (though those who take to it will most likely want to give it another go at some point).

    As per my post in ‘The ’40-’50s in Film’ (below), where someone responded:

    “I like it, certainly, but films comprised solely of character actors are kind of weird. I keep waiting for the star of the film to come in.”

    ~an interesting observation when you think about how people can train themselves (sometimes inappropriately) while developing film habits. ‘Three Strangers’ is a film that doesn’t need a star (essentially, the plot is the star) but it seems there are viewers who look to a leading character or leading couple set as ‘the person(s) they are supposed to follow’ in order to have a guide through the film – a kind of reference point which most often acts as a kind of ‘moral compass’. ‘Three Strangers’ also has no moral compass, per se. It’s a film about the dark side of human nature – and about desperate outsiders (typical John Huston territory).

    [“I was just thinking how…how easy it is to be ruined. One minute to have *everything* – the next to have nothing.”

    ‘Three Strangers’ (1946): If this ingenious flick isn’t in danger of being completely forgotten, it certainly seems unsung these days – it’s definitely one to seek out. Co-scripted by John Huston and Howard Koch (Koch also adapted Maugham’s ‘The Letter’), it boasts a trio of terrific leading performances given by actors cast against what they more commonly played: Sydney Greenstreet is seen as weak, Peter Lorre largely plays his role cool-headed, and Geraldine Fitzgerald (offering what may very well be her best work) gets to parade as the kind of crazy schemer that Mary Astor excelled at in ‘The Maltese Falcon’. The film opens with an odd kind of hopefulness as Fitzgerald bonds with two men she has just met on the street. She tells them that, according to Chinese legend, three strangers must form a precise pact on the eve of the Chinese New Year if they are all to be blessed by Kwan Yin, goddess of fortune and destiny. Greenstreet and Lorre more or less humor Fitzgerald…until fortune and destiny begin to act in their favor. But then things turn…and turn darkly indeed. The plot (scripted with a tinge of humor) builds to a wild conclusion. Directed quite well by Jean Negulesco and filmed by Arthur Edeson (who also shot ‘Frankenstein’, ‘Casablanca’, ‘The Maltese Falcon’, etc.).]

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