Saturday, May 05, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Three Strangers (1946) at the Noir City Film Festival

Tonight it was time for me to return to the Noir City Film Festival, now in its final weekend.

This evening was a tribute to actress Geraldine Fitzgerald, featuring two 1946 films she made with director Jean Negulesco, THREE STRANGERS and NOBODY LIVES FOREVER.

Fitzgerald's son, director Michael Lindsay-Hogg (BRIDESHEAD REVISITED), was present to introduce the films along with the Film Noir Foundation's Eddie Muller. Michael said it was special to celebrate his mother's career on this particular day, since she had given birth to him on May 5, 1940.

Michael also signed copies of his memoir, LUCK AND CIRCUMSTANCE: A COMING OF AGE IN HOLLYWOOD, NEW YORK, AND POINTS BEYOND. It was published just a few months ago and looks like a very interesting read. One of the intriguing aspects of Michael's life was his quest to confirm the identity of his biological father, who happens to have been Orson Welles. Fitzgerald had been a member of the Mercury Theater.

In the evening's first film, the THREE STRANGERS are convinced that a Chinese idol will grant a wish they make at midnight on Chinese New Year. Each of the strangers has a problem: Crystal (Fitzgerald) was dumped by her husband (Alan Napier); Jerome (Sydney Greenstreet) is an attorney who has bilked a wealthy client and is about to lose everything; and Johnny (Peter Lorre) is mixed up with a pair of murderous crooks (Robert Shayne and Peter Whitney). The trio agree that if the idol would grant them a winning sweepstakes ticket, it would solve all their problems. Easier said than done; one might say the moral of the story is to avoid idolatry (on multiple levels) and do the right thing.

This is an odd but interesting movie, fairly dark in tone yet enjoyable to watch, with a satisfying ending. Initially the screenplay, coauthored by John Huston and Howard Koch, is somewhat confusing; once the three lead characters make their wish and go their separate ways, wavy dissolves are used to shift focus in turn to each of their stories. Due to the way the dissolves looked, I thought at first that perhaps what was shown were dream sequences or some sort of alternate reality. As it turned out, everything portrayed in the film was actually happening; apparently the dissolves were meant to solve the problem that the three stories were unfolding simultaneously.

Fitzgerald's character is gradually revealed to be a malevolent witch of a woman. It was quite interesting seeing her as a far different type of character than she played in WUTHERING HEIGHTS (1939) -- or, for that matter, the evening's second film, NOBODY LIVES FOREVER. In a key scene she lies to her estranged husband's young new love Janet (Marjorie Riordan), and when she hears Janet's tears she tosses her head and grins with sheer evil glee. It was a brief but striking moment which caused a ripple of reaction among the audience.

Greenstreet's story is filled with black humor, as his widowed client, Lady Beldon (Rosalind Ivan), claims to converse with her late husband. However, it appears Lady Beldon is more savvy than she lets on, as circumstances lead her to inform her attorney that her husband demands an audit of her accounts! That was quite a delicious little scene. The comic touches were welcome as in many ways this was quite a dark story.

Lorre plays perhaps the most interesting of the three characters, who begins as an alcoholic keeping the wrong company but gradually shows himself to have more worth. It's a particularly interesting role for Lorre, inasmuch as he ends up having a little romance with Icey Crane (Joan Lorring). The only role I've seen him in which bears any resemblance to this part is THE CONSTANT NYMPH (1943), where he's the kindly brother-in-law married to Brenda Marshall.

Joan Lorring strongly resembles Vivien Leigh in this film. She was born in 1926 and appeared in several films in the '40s, most notably earning a nomination as Best Supporting Actress for THE CORN IS GREEN (1945). She later did quite a bit of work in television, including a stint on RYAN'S HOPE, but her priority was her family. She was married for decades to a well-known physician and researcher who passed on last year.

THREE STRANGERS was filmed in black and white by Arthur Edeson. The supporting cast includes Arthur Shields, John Alvin, Clifford Brooke, Doris Lloyd, and Ian Wolfe. It runs 92 minutes.

This film isn't available on DVD or VHS. I would expect that at some point the movie will be released on DVD-R by the Warner Archive, who sponsored tonight's screenings.

THREE STRANGERS can be seen on Turner Classic Movies. The trailer is available on the TCM website.

Update: A newly remastered print of this film is now available on DVD-R from the Warner Archive.


Blogger DorianTB said...

Laura, for me, THREE STRANGERS has always been as puzzling as it's intriguing. At times, it's like someone had decided to film NO EXIT: THE MOVIE! And yet, when it's on TV I can't help paying attention! For those who love their film noirs to be complex emotionally as well as plotwise, it's well worth seeing.

I read somewhere that THREE STRANGERS was originally intended to star Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, and Peter Lorre, but Bogart and Lorre weren't available, perhaps because World War 2 was still on at the time. It sure would have been interesting to see how THAT version would have fared with audiences! :-) In any case, Laura, this was a fascinating post, as always!

11:09 AM  

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