Monday, February 10, 2014


THREE STRANGERS (1946) is a nifty little film noir that I watched back around Christmas of last year. It stars two of my all time favorite character/supporting actors, Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. Any movie with these two gentlemen in it is worth watching in my opinion. Add in the lovely Geraldine Fitzgerald and you've got a winner. Oh, and there's not one but two connections in this film to classic comic book based television series. Robert Shayne, Inspector Henderson on THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN and Alan Napier, Alfred on BATMAN, are both in the supporting cast.

The John Huston-Howard Koch screenplay is capably directed by Jean Negulesco. It's a slightly complicated story that takes several twists and turns before one of the titular three strangers is dead at the hands of another member of the trio while the third finds unexpected redemption.

Set in 1938 London, the story finds Greenstreet and Lorre approached by Fitzgerald to share any future winnings that might accrue from a sweepstakes ticket in her possession. She believes that if three people make the same wish for money on the eve of the Chinese New Year, that their wishes will ultimately come true. Lorre and Greenstreet play along with the superstitious baloney and all three sign a contract agreeing to split any prize money in equal thirds. Then they all go their separate ways.

Fitzgerald is married to Napier who has taken a lover and wants to divorce Fitzgerald and marry his new love. Fitzgerald refuses to grant his wish and does everything she can to undermine her husband and his mistress.

It turns out that Lorre is part of a criminal gang that has just pulled off a daring robbery. The leader of the gang (Shayne) has been arrested and Lorre and his partners are in hiding from the British police. Lorre eventually gets nabbed and set up to take the fall for the gang's activities. He is convicted and is sentenced to death.

Greenstreet is a successful barrister who has been managing a client's trust fund. He invested the money in stocks and bonds but when the market crashes, he's left without a dime and is guilty of misappropriation of a client's money. He faces disbarment and eternal shame and decides to commit suicide. But before he does, he spies a newspaper headline about the Grand National horse race and he remembers the winning sweepstakes ticket.

Greenstreet goes to Fitzgerald to collect his third of the prize money but she's gone completely insane with jealousy over her husband and his mistress and refuses to give Greenstreet anything. Greenstreet murders her just as a recently exonerated Lorre shows up. They decide to flee but once on the street, Greenstreet is overcome with guilt and paranoia and loudly confesses his crime. Lorre, now cleared of any and all criminal charges, is the sole possessor of the winning ticket. But he has his freedom and his girlfriend (Joan Lorring) and he destroys the ticket, content with what he has.

For much of the 92 minute running time of THREE STRANGERS the film does not play and feel like a true, classic noir. Only when Greenstreet finds himself caught in a web of his own devising with death his only recourse, do things take a turn into bonafide noir territory. The third act is textbook noir and it's well done, with a mounting, almost suffocating sense of dread and entrapment.

THREE STRANGERS may not be a great film noir but it's certainly well worth seeing for anyone who is a fan of the genre.

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