Customer Review

32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a must, despite the pallid commentary, June 16, 2006
This review is from: House of Strangers (DVD)
This is a film I'd only caught TV fragments of, decades ago. I'd watched enough back then to know I wanted to add it to my home collection, but I held off buying the videotape version because the video was available at an outrageously high price. I've come to appreciate the voiceover commentaries Fox provides on many of its re-releases so, when Fox announced it was making a reasonably priced DVD of it available, I pre-ordered it a month before its release. The movie itself is excellent in every respect. The commentary, though, is not up to the usual Fox standards.

The commentary complains that Susan Hayward's character doesn't fit the femme fatale prototype for noir and thus she has too much screen time. However, as commentary on other Fox noirs has pointed out, the supportive "good girl" love interest is as much a part of the noir tradition as the wise-cracking torch singer; and clearly Hayward's role was (expertly) expanded to augment her star development, much as was done somewhat earlier for Lauren Bacall in THE BIG SLEEP.

Hayward's savvy dialogue imbues her character with the sassy edge one expects of a noir femme fatale, suggesting that she's a capable match for the protagonist in the boudoir. But the commentary misreads the scene where her lover (Conte) reacquaints himself with the sexual atmosphere of her apartment after a seven-year absence. This is not a tense, foreboding mood (especially in contrast to the menacing gloom when he enters his parents' "dark old house" in the sequence that follows this one), as he pockets her lipstick kiss on a discarded tissue and then nonchalantly slips out of his clothes to take a shower. And Hayward's leer and self-hug when she realizes who has broken into her bedroom and is naked in the next room leaves little doubt about the extent of the reunion that takes place between the slow dissolve and the next scene we share with them.

Robinson clearly deserved an Oscar for his performance as the patriarch--his fluid Italian, his courage for a couple near-nude scenes, and his characteristic good acting, especially when he'd get that trademark thrush in his voice to convey deep emotions. And, of course, this is the supreme Richard Conte picture.

I was puzzled by the music used for the final shots of the movie. I knew I'd heard the music somewhere, but the DVD commentary merely continues rattling on plot description. I checked the other credits of composer Daniele Amfitheatrof and, though impressed by his list of accomplishments, found no other film title that matched up with that fade-out music. Only while writing this amazon.com blurb did I recall that it's the same music that ended the Fox classic THE RAZOR'S EDGE three years earlier. Amazon.com lists that film's director as the composer of the music for EDGE; but, while Goulding did write the popular songs for that production, the theme at the close of EDGE and of HOUSE is by Alfred Newman. Looks like Yordan (instead of director Mankiewicz) taking credit for the script of HOUSE OF STRANGERS is not the only cover-up associated with the Mankiewicz movie.

HOUSE OF STRANGERS doesn't "feel like" a noir film to me. Conte's protagonist is not really an anti-hero, is always a confident professional rather than haunted with self-doubt and hunted as a victim of legit society. Part family drama and part gangster picture, HOUSE lacks such noir staples as fancy nightclubs (though the speakeasy depicted economically conveys a seedy noir clientele); thug beatings that result in the hero being bandaged by the vapid good girl who believes in him; or a sense that the whole world (not just his brothers and his father's ghost) is out for the hero's blood. Yes he makes a bad choice and is jailed for it, but this plot detail does not exploit the usual noir wormwood. And yes, the story suggests such devices of Greek tragedy as hubris and inescapable Fate, but without the "cold city" lewdness the genre so often prefers. Ultimately it's KING LEAR (with two weak middle sons subbing for one of Lear's thankless daughters) meets THE GODFATHER.

This DVD's big disappointment remains the commentary. Amid patches of silence, occasional observations state obvious ways that the framing and editing advance the plot. But that shouldn't detract from the five stars this movie deserves. Full-blown noir or not, just skip the voiceover commentary and enjoy the film as is.
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Initial post: Aug 15, 2011 7:05:01 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 15, 2011 7:06:51 PM PDT
Topanga Rose says:
Fantastic review. Thank YOU for all that good information.
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