HOUSE OF STRANGERS—King Lear, on the way to The Godfather, stopped off at the unhappy banking tribe of this 1949 drama, with dynamic Edward G. Robinson lording it over four sons, bridling over his divide & conquer treatment. Add a dame and make her a hotshot outsider, churn emotions and let fly the mutts of jealousy. The first 20 minutes are on the overheated end, then it settles into an enjoyable simmer, sparked by a well-picked cast. Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed; the intrafamily warfare grasping position #44 that year, grossing $5,600,000.
After serving a seven-spot in the slammer, former slick lawyer ‘Max Monetti’ (Richard Conte) confronts his brothers who’ve assumed control of the family banking business. Flashback recalls how it came to be under the whip hand of self-made patriarch ‘Gino’ (Robinson) who favored Max while browbeating resentful family man ‘Joe’ (Luther Adler), slacker playboy ‘Tony’ (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) and belittled boxer ‘Pietro’ (Paul Valentine). Max has further unresolved issues with client-turned-lover ‘Irene Bennett’ (Susan Hayward), ready to be steady, but self-assured enough not to take any guff without a fight.
Jerome Weidman’s 1941 novel “I’ll Never Go There Anymore” was the basis for the script drafted by Philip Yordan. It was unfinished, Yordan was fired, Mankiewicz rewrote it, yet only Yordan received screen credit. Five years later it was redone as a western, the fine Broken Lance, then once more six years after that as The Big Show, the setting moved to a circus.
Much of the writing snaps and sparks, though some of the quick-passion exchanges between Conte and Hayward are rushed in the tempo of the period and are freighted with too much self-aware cleverness (Mankiewicz showing off), but the actors put it over with zest. The parry & thrust among the brothers and father works better: Robinson and Adler are especially impressive.
101 minutes, with Debra Paget, Hope Emerson, Esther Minciotti, Diana Douglas, John Kellogg.