Three Strangers (1946)

Directed by Jean Negulesco

Cinematography by

Arthur Edeson

Three Strangers is a 1946 American film noir  crime drama, starring Sydney Greenstreet, Geraldine Fitzgerald, and Peter Lorre, and featuring Joan Lorring and Alan Napier. It was directed by Jean Negulesco from a script by John Huston and Howard Koch.

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engrossing fare

29 June 2005 | by blanche-2 (United States) – See all my reviews

“Three Strangers” has long been a favorite film of mine, with its fascinating reference to the statue of the goddess Kwan Yin, who, in Chinese legend, opens her eyes and grants a wish to three strangers on the Chinese New Year. Geraldine Fitzgerald, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre are the above-mentioned strangers, each with an agenda that can be easily pursued by money. So the wish is that their sweepstakes ticket win, and the agreement is that it then be entered into the horse race that follows.

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Geraldine Fitzgerald’s character seems sympathetic, but she reveals herself as quite obsessive and delusional as the film progresses. Greenstreet plays a crooked solicitor, and Lorre portrays a small time criminal – he’s the most sympathetic character and, to my mind, gives the most memorable performance.

The film asks the question – did the meeting of the three strangers change their lives, or did events proceed as they would have? This is an unusual, absorbing, and entertaining film. I highly recommend it.

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  Joan Lorring    Peter Lorre

Interesting black comedy about greed in a movie rich with detail and atmosphere.

8/10
Author: tjonasgreen from New York, N.Y.
4 April 2004

A very literate script by John Huston and Howard Koch makes this one worth seeing. Only after the initial intriguing premise is set in motion do we discover to our amusement that all the characters we’ve become interested in are fairly despicable, particularly Geraldine Fitzgerald as a sociopath and nymphomaniac. With the unusually well observed character details provided by the script and the use of many supporting and bit actors one hasn’t seen in lots of other pictures, THREE STRANGERS really has something of the atmosphere of London in 1938 rather than of London-via-Hollywood.

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And make no mistake: Despite good direction by Jean Negulesco, John Huston’s cynicism, pessimism and misogyny are evident everywhere, and that alone makes this unusual in a ’40s picture. Like MALTESE FALCON it is a black comedy about greed, but it has no big stars, no glamor, and only the sliest, cruelest humor. Add the perfectly judged performances of everyone in this film, and it adds up to a neglected near-classic, one that seemed to predict the funnier and more elegant KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS.

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As the real star of the film, Peter Lorre is wonderfully wry and quite lovable as one of life’s eternal losers. Sydney Greenstreet often played nasty men deliciously but here he takes his character’s weakness and pettiness much further than usual, and his scenes of escalating madness are very effective. Geraldine Fitzgerald’s portrait of an amoral seductress is different than what she usually played at Warners, and should be considered some kind of ’40s milestone in the depiction of depraved women alongside Gene Tierney in LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN and Agnes Moorehead in DARK PASSAGE.

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She’s aided by some very form-fitting Milo Anderson gowns, one of which, a pleated satin negligee, was recycled in black for Patricia Neal in THE FOUNTAINHEAD a few years later. It looks great in both incarnations. In smaller parts Peter Whitney makes an impression as a soft-hearted (and homosexual?) crony of Lorre’s, and Rosalind Ivan is memorable as a dotty widow who is much shrewder than she appears. Finally, the casting of Fitzgerald, Marjorie Riordan and Joan Lorring (who looks like a young Irene Selznick) is curious: all three young women have prominent noses, darkly painted lips and very dark, shoulder-length hair which is styled similarly.

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And as each character descends in economic scale, her looks are heavier and plainer. Another comment on how fickle fortune can be? Anne Sharp’s comment below that the characters are meant to illustrate the dark forces that enabled WWII is interesting and valuable.

By the way, the print shown on TCM is rather dim, sketchy and full of harsh contrasts so it’s hard to judge what the film was actually meant to look like. Whoever now owns the Warner Bros. library should strike a pristine version of this one.

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In The Hope Of Fortune Coming Their Way

9/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
16 January 2009

The time is 1938 London before the World War. A woman of mystery, Geraldine Fitzgerald, invites two perfect strangers played by Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet up to her apartment. She’s a believer in the ancient Chinese god of Kwan Lin and it’s said that if Three Strangers wish on that deity and their’s is the same wish it will be granted. In this case the wish is money and it’s in the form of a sweepstakes ticket that Peter Lorre has purchased and who gives two thirds away to Fitzgerald and Greenstreet in the hope of fortune coming their way.

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After this we see a glimpse of the lives of the three people. Lorre is a petty criminal who’s gotten himself into a beautiful jackpot being accused of a murder that he didn’t commit. Fitzgerald is a shrewish wife who stays married to an unhappy Alan Napier who just wants to be free to marry Marjorie Riordan. This is a harbinger of a role that Fitzgerald really perfected a dozen years later in Ten North Frederick. As for Greenstreet, he’s a solicitor, an attorney of no great significance in the legal profession, an English version of a man whose name I was once threatened with named Abe Hecht. It’s now become a synonym for cheap shysters with me. Anyway Greenstreet’s the trustee of an estate he’s been dipping into. He wants to make a financial killing real bad because he thinks that money will buy him respectability which he craves like nothing else.

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The film is like a 90 minute version of a Twilight Zone episode, but that’s not a putdown because some really classic stuff was done on that program. The script was written by Howard Koch and John Huston and directed by Jean Negulesco. I’m surprised Huston did not want to direct this one himself, but Jean Negulesco got some of the best performances that members of the cast ever gave on screen, especially from the three leads.

Notice no really big movie names are in this cast, no leading men screen legends. That may have been an asset to the film because it concentrates on the story and the characters created. The ironic fates of all three of the sweepstakes ticket sharers could have come right out of the imaginative mind of Rod Serling. And Peter Lorre is actually allowed a little romance in a movie. That alone makes Three Strangers absolutely priceless.

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Three Strangers is a B picture gem, one of those low budget sleepers that Hollywood puts out to great critical acclaim that turn a profit because of the low budget. And this review is dedicated to that attorney Abe Hecht whom I never met and to his idiot brother-in-law Morris Stetch who threatened me with him back in 1979. To see if Greenstreet obtains the status of a Clarence Darrow and rises from Abe Hechtdom, don’t miss Three Strangers.

Quality movie.

8/10
Author: Boba_Fett1138 from Groningen, The Netherlands
16 October 2007

This is one fine made movie. It has a greatly written script and a top-notch cast. It sounds like a cliché of course but it’s a real shame that movies like these aren’t being made and written anymore.

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At least not on such a commercially large scale and with such fine big name actors in it. Movies like this aren’t made anymore simply because movies like this don’t really sell, unless they are being made exceptionally good. It’s not really a film-noir, although the movie certainly shows similarities to the atmosphere and the story also shows noir tendencies. The movie in the end is perhaps a bit too ‘light’ to consider it a real film-noir, also because it features quite an amount of subtle black comedy. The story is solidly constructed and focuses on three different characters and plot-lines that of course are all still connected to each other. The fine script was written by Hollywood legend John Huston.

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It features lots of deeper themes such as greed and jealousy. You really start to care about the characters and their problems. Something that isn’t too common for a ’40’s genre movie. It’s not always an easy movie to watch and follow so make sure you watch this movie with a clear head. The dialog might be a bit overlong by todays standards but its so fine written and delivered by the actors that you tend to look past this. The movie gets really carried by the three main characters, that equally share the screen time. I was especially impressed by Sydney Greenstreet, which also might due to the fact that he had the best- or at least most credible plot line.

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Peter Lorre also played a great role and gave a fine performance. Geraldine Fitzgerald was definitely the least of the three actors and she tended to overact a bit in some of the dramatic sequences. But overall her role was also really a solid one and it says something about the quality of the acting from Lorre and Greenstreet to say that Fitzgerald gave the lesser performance of the movie. Alan Napier also plays a small role. Oh man, it really seems to be that this guy is in about every ‘old’ movie that I watch lately. Napier received his most fame for playing the butler Alfred in the Adam West “Batman” series from the ’60’s. The editing of the movie was also surprisingly good and fast. Instead of long single camera sequences, the movie cuts back and forth between different camera positions in the same sequence rapidly. It gives the story speed and helps to keep you interest even during the more slow and dull moments of the movie. The fine little musical score was from acclaimed composer Adolph Deutsch, whose music suited this movie and its atmosphere really well. It’s a fine good old fashioned quality movie, made with limited resources but with fine experts involved. 8/10

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