Wednesday, September 14, 2011

House of Strangers

I said over the weekend that I could write all the time about remakes and never run out of material. And wouldn't you know it, there's another original coming up, for which I've already recommended the remake. That original is House of Strangers, airing tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM on the Fox Movie Channel.

The movie starts out with Max Monetti (Richard Conte) getting out of prison and going back the the place he worked, a bank that was founded and built up by his now-deceased father Gino (Edward G. Robinson). The bank has since been taken over by Max's three brothers, who are none too happy to see Max. They try to buy him off and get him to leave town, but instead, he goes back to his parents' old house to recall the past in a flashback.... If this sounds familiar, it's because it's pretty much the same opening that you saw five months ago in Broken Lance.

Having seen Broken Lance, we can guess more or less what's going to happen in House of Strangers. Gino Monetti came from the old country, and has started a bank serving his fellow immigrants, that he's built up into a fairly nice concern. The only problem is, Gino doesn't quite follow modern banking practices, which means that when the bank inspectors come, there are bound to be problems. All four of the sons are working for the bank, although the only one with a really good job at the bank is Max, who went to law school and is doing some practice on the side as well as handling the bank's legal affairs. As for the other brothers (Luther Adler, Paul Valentine, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), they're glorified tellers, and geting a salary that befits a glorified teller. Adler (playing brother Joe) is particularly unhappy about this, as he's got a social-climbing wife who wants a better social status. Seeing Gino coddle Max while treating the rest of them like dirt is just too much. Max is engaged, but has started taking up with socialite Irene (Susan Hayward), and that's just something you don't do in an Italian family.

So, when the bank inspectors do come, Joe tries to "protect" Gino, but is really coming up with a scheme that will make Max the fall guy and get Gino's ownership in the bank handed over to Mom, from whom Joe and the other two brothers can easily get the ownership. It's to this atmosphere that Max comes home. Irene more or less stuck by him while he was in prison, and she's urging him to go west with her and get away from the bad influence of his family. But Max might just want revenge.

There are some differences between House of Strangers and Broken Lance, the biggest being that all four sons have the same mother, which removes one of the conflicts that would be added to Broken Lance. Spencer Tracy and Edward G. Robinson are both excellent actors, and handled their characters well. As for the sons, it's really only the Joe and Max characters who count; the other two brothers come off more as pawns of Joe's. I don't particularly care for Susan Hayward's role (not her acting: just the way the role is written); she seems entirely too financially independent and a convenient means of driving the plot. Overall, though, House of Strangers is a surprisingly little-known movie from the late 1940s studio system that's worth a viewing.

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