House of Strangers, 1949. 8/10

Edward G. Robinson is shady banking patriarch Gino Monetti; the title refers to his family. Max (Richard Conte), Pietro (Paul Valentine), Tony (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.), and Joe (Luther Adler) are his sons, and Theresa (Esther Minciotti) is his wife. Max is the most independent, both professionally and personally; he’s engaged to Maria (Debra Padgett), but takes up with Irene (Susan Hayward).

Max drops in at the bank to see his brothers. They’re ready to give him a thousand-dollar payoff, possibly to get lost. Is that a bust of Mussolini against the wall? Max is out of prison after doing seven years (it’s now 1949), obviously not too happy about it. “Vengeance is a rare wine” he tells Irene. She wants to up and leave him, but doesn’t. Back at his place, he plays the phonograph and looks up at his father’s portrait. We need this to segue into a flashback.

Sure enough, next scene is of Gino in the bathtub. It’s 1932. At dinner, Gino’s not the best host, giving Tony’s wife Elaine (Diane Douglas) a bad time for not liking spaghetti. Max splits to see Irene; soon they’re having a complete affair. Maria’s mom is more than a little upset, but Max insists the wedding’s still on. Maybe Irene’s onto something when she tells Max “you think all women come in vacuum-sealed containers.”

Gino gives an honest, passionate talk to his irate customers when the government closes his bank in the depression. Max’s plan to distribute the bank amongst the four of them would get dad out of hot water with the law, but they don’t want to take the responsibility, and they don’t trust Max. That’s when Max calls their home “a house of strangers.”

Max represents his father in court. But Gino sabotages himself by talking too much, not without some hilarious and folksy stuff. Basically, he’s in trouble for loan-sharking, charging exorbitant interest, a “lecherous money-lender.” Max is the only one in dad’s corner, along with Irene. However, Max’s plan backfired. Gino is effectively squeezed out of the bank, and Max goes to jail for the bank’s (Gino’s) misdeeds. Irene tells Gino off, as Max is, in effect, doing time in his father’s stead. Gino dies in 1943; Max gets a pass to go to the funeral, exchanging dirty looks with his brothers.

Back to 1949, and Max’s reverie. In a mock conversation with Gino’s portrait, Max spins out various revenge scenarios–ultimately, though, he says he’s just going to forget it the whole mess. He calls Irene, and eagerly agrees to leave with her. Unfortunately, though, his brothers show up to confront him; there’s no way they believe that he’s not out to get them. Pietro beats him up. But Joe Makes the mistake of calling Pietro “dumbhead,” so now Pietro wants to kill Joe. Barely alive himself, Max talks him out of it. Irene’s waiting for Max, they leave everything behind.

Superb Edward G. Robinson. He’s completely convincing with this highly nuanced role. By turns Gino’s blustering, domineering, bullying, loyal, joyous, full of life, caught in tragedy. Conte’s Max is a sort of suave version of his father; the other brothers are more types, the sensitive one, the ‘dumbhead’, the coniving one. But their lesser personalities are supposed to highlight the overpowering nature of Max and Gino.

In fact, no one gets off easy here. Gino is ruined, Max, nearly so; Maria’s humiliated (though she later marries Tony), the brothers haven’t learned a thing. Even their mom regrets how things have turned out. This serves as a sort of prototype for that better known star-crossed immigrant family portrayed in The Godfather. There’s a complete authenticity to the setting, atmosphere, and mannerisms (helped more than a bit by Robinson’s portrayal) of New York City immigrant culture that’s all the more effective because it doesn’t draw attention to itself.

When nobody was looking, Farmermouse finished up Elaine’s spaghetti. He gives this eight street vendors’ carts. 8/10.

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