A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Three Strangers (Jean Negulesco, 1946)

Geraldine Fitzgerald and Sydney Greenstreet in Three Strangers
Jerome K. Arbutny: Sydney Greenstreet
Crystal Shackleford: Geraldine Fitzgerald
Johnny West: Peter Lorre
Icey Crane: Joan Lorring
Bertram Fallon: Robert Shayne
Janet Elliott: Marjorie Riordan
Prosecutor: Arthur Shields
Lady Rhea Belladon: Rosalind Ivan
Junior Clerk: John Alvin
Gabby: Peter Whitney
David Shackleford: Alan Napier

Director: Jean Negulesco
Screenplay: John Huston, Howard Koch
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Art direction: Ted Smith
Film editing: George Amy
Music: Adolph Deutsch

This is the movie in which Peter Lorre gets the girl, though not the leading lady played by Geraldine Fitzgerald. Instead, Lorre's Johnny West winds up with Icey, the woman who adores him and even perjures herself to save him from being hanged. It's all the result of a rather charmingly tangled and entirely improbable plot cooked up by John Huston with the aid of Howard Koch and kicked around Warner Bros. for years until it finally settled in the hands of director Jean Negulesco. Like The Maltese Falcon (Huston, 1941) it teams Lorre with Sydney Greenstreet and features a mysterious artifact as something of a MacGuffin. Instead of a priceless black bird, the artifact in Three Strangers is a statue of the Chinese goddess Kwan Yin. Legend has it that if three people, strangers to one another, make a wish on the statue at the lunar New Year, the wish will come true. So Fitzgerald's character, Crystal Shackleford, lures the solicitor Jerome K. Arbutny and the down-on-his-luck Johnny to her flat, and the three agree that the only thing that will solve their problems -- she wants to win the love of her husband from whom she's separated, Arbutny wants to become a barrister, and Johnny just wants to own a bar -- is money. so they place their bets on a sweepstakes ticket. Sure enough, despite the skepticism of Arbutny and the comparative indifference of Johnny, Kwan Yin comes through. And equally sure enough, nothing goes right for the trio, with the possible exception of Johnny, who does, as we said, get the girl. Alfred Hitchcock had once expressed interest in the screenplay, and we might have gotten something great if he had settled on it, but Negulesco doesn't put much of an interesting spin on the material. But Lorre and Greenstreet, together or apart, are always fun to watch.

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