Not having much appreciation for (or just being an aficionado of) the film noir genre, I could probably do one better and say that even if noir was induced on me subliminally, there may be a good chance that I wouldn’t even recognize it. So I don’t know how cool things like The Blackboard Jungle or some other films are and I can’t really rule them out of hand. So when I got House of Strangers to review, I had to give it a try.
Based on a novel by Jerome Weidman (who won a Pulitzer for a Broadway play) and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (who directed a couple of films called Guys and Dolls and Cleopatra), the film centers around several brothers and their father Gino, played by Edward G. Robinson (Soylent Green). Gino’s favorite son Max (Richard Conte, The Godfather) is thrown in jail in connection with his father’s dealings (he runs a well-known bank in New York). Unbeknownst to Gino, his other sons Pietro (Paul Valentine, Against All Odds), Joe (Luther Adler, Absence of Malice) and Tony (Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Hot Shots!) overthrow Gino in a power play, which leads to Gino’s death.
Max finds out about this when he’s in jail, so naturally he decides to vow revenge on his brothers for this, even though he seems to partially realize he’s being manipulated. Before he’s put in jail, he meets an acquaintance named Irene (Susan Hayward, Valley of the Dolls) who is attracted to and falls in love with him. The problem is that Max is engaged to someone already, and Irene knows this and Max’s plans of vengeance, and still tries to stop him from going through with it. It all leads to a violent culmination of events at the end of the film where the brothers square off.
This isn’t the first time in a recent viewing I’ve seen Robinson feign an accent that wasn’t a Edward G. Robinson accent (the other time was in The Ten Commandments). But in this film, Robinson is more than believable as an aging Italian father (he looks a couple decades older than the 55 years he was when he played the role), and Conte and Adler’s performances are surprising too. Even Hayward’s role as the aware, influential other woman is one that was almost light years ahead of its time. This was a pleasant introduction to the film noir genre and I’ll try to keep my ear to the ground for any new releases that come up.
Full frame viewing which is no surprise here, considering the age of the film. And while I wasn’t expecting a full-blown remastered version of the original film, the picture isn’t too cleared up, the black levels kind of are all over the place and not really too consistent, so it’s a bit disappointing, but nothing to get pissed over.
In a bit of a surprise, the film sports a stereo treatment. Quite frankly the mono treatment probably would have been better, as this stereo track is pretty weak and hollow-sounding, and but I didn’t think it was all that bad.
There are some stills galleries that are included to tout the film to the poster consuming public, but there’s also a commentary track with author/historian Foster Hirsch. While there is A LOT of dead air during his track, Hirsch provides some historical information and narrative when it calls for it, and he also helps to decipher some of the scenes, in terms of how they are framed, the dialogue in them and other notes. He also has a bit of information about the production and the cast from a trivia point of view, and he goes into a bit of biographical detail when needed, along with any relevant film criticism. This track is a very good accompaniment to the film.
House of Strangers proves to be a compelling, intriguing piece of film that includes some good performances and a nice story. You don’t have to be a noir fan to enjoy this film, but it’s a nice package worth checking out for the new fan of the genre.