"House of Strangers" is based on the novel "I'll Never Go There Again" by Pulitzer prize-winning playwright and novelist Jerome Weidman, who wrote about the immigrant experience in New York City in the early 20th century, particularly the Jewish immigrant experience. This screenplay is credited solely to Philip Yordan, but director Joseph Mankiewicz actually wrote the final version of the script. Jerome Weidman's book is about a Jewish banking family who were changed to Italians for the film. If that was in order to avoid controversy, it didn't quite work. The Giannini family, who founded Bank of America, complained to 20th Century Fox that the family in the film resembled theirs. But they were outdone by the studio chairman himself, Spyrus Skouras, who thought the fictional Monetti family was his. So he limited the film's release. That's unfortunate, because "House of Strangers" has some wonderful performances, including one that earned Edward G. Robinson a Best Actor award at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival.
Seven years after he went to prison for attempting to bribe a juror, Max Monetti (Richard Conte) returns to New York with vengeance on his mind, directed at his brother Joe (Luther Adler), whom Max believes gave the police the tip that put him away. His old flame Irene Bennett (Susan Hayward), a sharp-tongued uptown girl, wants Max to abandon thoughts of vengeance and start a new life with her. As Max listens to his deceased father's opera records, we travel back in time to when family patriarch Gino Monetti (Edward G. Robinson), a poor barber-turned-rich-banker, held his immigrant clients and his 4 sons under his sway. -Except for Max, whose forceful personality made him his father's favorite, immune to the petty abuses and selfish whims suffered by Joe, Antonio (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.), and Pietro (Paul Valentine) . When the State investigated the bank's lending practices, the bitterness that Gino's ill treatment had sowed became apparent.
"House of Strangers" is sometimes called film noir, probably because of Max's subjective, introverted perspective of the corrosive Monetti family dynamics. But this isn't even a crime film. Its strongest elements by far are Greek Tragedy, but "House of Strangers" is also part immigrant experience and part romance. The sins of the father are visited upon the sons, and the 3 main players in that drama -Gino, Max, and Joe- are memorable. Edward G. Robinson's performance is a bit theatrical, but Gino's character is so poisonous and his emotions so vivid that it doesn't matter if he is over-the-top. His lecture about the differences between the Old World and the New is a hoot too. Luther Adler impresses in the small but delicate part of Joe, the scorned son. The interaction between Max and Irene seems superfluous, as if it were transposed from another story. A lot of dialogue that was unmistakably written by Mankiewicz comes out of Irene's mouth. There is some good stuff, but Irene talks too much. "House of Strangers" is a fine Greek Tragedy and a harsh take on an immigrant family that made good.
The DVD (20th Century Fox 2006): Bonus features are a theatrical trailer (2 ½ min), a Poster Gallery of 4 b&w posters, a (mislabeled) Production Stills Gallery of 10 behind-the-scenes photos, a (mislabeled) Unit Photography Gallery of 23 production stills, and an audio commentary by film historian Foster Hirsch. The commentary isn't non-stop, but Hirsch analyzes the composition, framing, blocking, and any technique used to illustrate the film's themes for many scenes. He also comments on characters and provides background information on the film and actors. Subtitles are available for the film in English and Spanish.