Movie Critique – Three Strangers
Stars: 5 / 5
Recommendation: Three desperate characters crazy about a statue and the fortune it may or may note bestow - a recipe perfectly executed by Negulesco to Huston's screenplay, full of deceit and marked absence of emotions, leaving a chill in the viewer's mind no matter whose fate they pick.
Three Strangers is a 1946 American film noir crime drama starring Sydney Greenstreet, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Peter Lorre, Joan Lorring and Alan Napier in the lead cast. Directed by Jean Negulesco, the screenplay was written by John Huston and Howard Koch. The film is set in 1938.
When I was posting about the 1941 film noir The Maltese Falcon, I mentioned that Huston had written a sequel to that film and released in 1946. Little did I know then that Turner Classic Movies (TCM) would air the sequel, Three Strangers. And I didn’t lose an opportunity to watch it.
Three strangers - Crystal Shackelford (portrayed by Geraldine Fitzgerald), solicitor Jeromy K. Arbutny (portrayed by Sydney Greenstreet) and drunkard Johnny West (portrayed by Peter Lorre - are lured into the mythology of wishing to an idol of Chinese goddess of fortune and destiny, Kwan Yin, on the eve of Chinese New Year then the wish will be granted. And their wishes to make their lives better only cause more trouble leading upto murder, mystery and heartache.
While The Maltese Falcone was debut film for Huston as a director, with this film his contribution was only with regards to the screenplay. He had written this film in 1936 long before The Maltese Falcon movie came along. He couldn’t direct the film when it was ready as Huston was a lieutenant in U.S. Army Signal Corps and serving at that time. The story was inspired by a wooden figure Huston bought in an antique shop in London.
The basic plot still reminds us of The Maltese Falcon - desperate characters crazy about a statue and the fortune that would come with it. Interestingly enough Huston had written this story even before it's prequel was made into a film. The statue in question in this film though resembles closer to an Indian goddess rather than a Chinese one. Per a hardcore fan, Steve Weston, there are 450 sightings of the idol, Kwan Yin, in movies so far. Is there a significance to it?
Although forms a sort of sequel, because Warner Brothers didn’t have rights to use Dashiell Hammett's original characters of The Maltese Falcon, this film has a completely new set of characters. Lorre and Greenstreet however reappear in this film but as new characters. None the less it went on to become a huge hit for Warner Brothers that year.
This is the eighth of the nine films that Greenstreet and Lorre appeared together starting with The Maltese Falcon in 1941, all released by Warner Brothers between 1941 and 1946. This would be the first time though Lorre would be in a romantic lead opposite Joan Lorring's Icey Crane. The pairing was as odd as Bogart and Bacall marrying - Lorre was 41 and Lorring was 19 in the film; close enough to Bogart and Bacall's ages when they married.
Sydney Greenstreet showed his acting capability at his highest in the film. One moment a comic and the very next heartbreaking emotions on his face. While Geraldine made a perfect femme fatale, stooping so low as to be ready to destroy her own life if she cannot have whom she wants. Peter Lorre is his smart self as always doing a suggestive impression of a bad guy down on the luck but innately good inside.
There are several other connections to The Maltese Falcon in this film. Director Negulesco was first set to direct "Falcon" before Huston took over. Negulesco directs this film. Geraldine was Huston's first choice to play Brigid O'Shaughnessy in the "Falcon", and here she is the leading lady. Geraldine could have easily made an O'Shaughnessy as Astor did. Her role in this film is very similar - cynical, conniving and selfish till the end; a complete femme fatale.
The film has fantasy and film noir elements melded together. But with the human emotions such as deceit, greed and desperation dominant in this film, it goes more as a film noir than a fantasy around the mythological wish granting idol. Greed of one stranger; wickedness of the second and absolute stupidity of the third - can't figure out who is the lesser evil to get the wish.
The film starts on the eve of Chinese New Year, January 31 of 1928, giving the viewers three different stories, all culminating to one final moment in the end. However, the film leaves it up to the viewers to pick whosesoever's perspective they want of the three., in the end leaving the viewers thinking deep no matter whom they select; and with a certain chill.
1) Movie Trivia:
a. The original title of the film was Three Men and a Girl.
b. This was the final film appearance for Alec Craig. He plays the man on park bench.