Three Strangers (1946) Classic Movie Review 159

Three Strangers (1946)

Three Strangers (1946)

Even if I am a policeman, I hate a squealer.

 

 

Today’s movie is Three Strangers (1946), and yes, it is another of the Lorre Greenstreet pairing. So, I’m a little obsessive. This Warner Brothers film is also known as Three Men and a Girl (1946). John Huston was one of the screenwriters, it was based around a statue, and has two of the people for The Maltese Falcon (1941). Odd.

iMDB.com has this movie rated at 7.0[1] while rottentomatoes.com[2] has it as 60 percent audience liked. New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther wrote that the film:

“…is full-bodied melodrama of a shrewd and sophisticated sort. Never so far away from reason that it is wholly incredible but obviously manufactured fiction, it makes a tolerably tantalizing show, reaching some points of fascination in a few of its critical scenes.”[3]

Yeah, it’s that good. This is a highly entertaining and exciting film. Don’t mess with destiny.

Actors

Returning

The wonderful actor and laugher Sydney Greenstreet, and all-around model of male handsome was Jerome K. Arbutny. Greenstreet was first covered in Episode 100 – The Maltese Falcon (1941). Also, first covered in that same film was Peter Lorre whose role as Johnny West in this film is one of his best and that is saying a lot.

The devilishly handsome Alan Napier played David Shackleford, estranged husband to Crystal. Napier was first covered in the awful John Wayne film Big Jim McLain (1952).

Ian Wolfe was uncredited as Gillkie the Barrister or lawyer if your American. Wolfe was first covered in Episode 38 – 99 River Street (1953)

Others from Episode 152 – The Verdict (1946) include Holmes Herbert who was uncredited as Sir Robert, Rosalind Ivan as the slightly crazy Lady Rhea Belladon, the Prosecutor was Arthur Shields, and Joan Lorring as Icey Crane. Great name.

Three Strangers (1946)

Three Strangers (1946)

New

Geraldine Fitzgerald played the role of Crystal Shackleford. Fitzgerald was born in 1913 in Ireland. She made her acting debut in local theater in 1932. This is where she first worked with Orson Welles. From 1934 to 1937 she worked in English films. Her first husband induced her to move to New York. Fitzgerald made her Broadway debut in 1938 in a Mercury Theater production. She signed with Warner Bros. and headed to Hollywood.

Fitzgerald hit it out of the park with her first American movie. She played the role if Isabella in Wuthering Heights (1939) and received a best-supporting-actress Oscar nomination. Don’t peak too early! That same year she was in Dark Victory (1939) with Bette Davis. She likely lost the Bridget O’Shaughnessy role to Mary Astor in The Maltese Falcon (1941) because of struggles with Jack Warner.

Other films include Shinning Victory (1941), The Gay Sisters (1942), Watch on the Rhine (1943), Wilson (1944), and Three Strangers (1946). She continued to refuse roles and got suspended. She split her time between stage and character work. Her later movies include Ten North Frederick (1958), The Pawnbroker (1964), Rachel, Rachel (1968), Harry and Tonto (1974), and Arthur (1981), although she was only 21-years older than star Dudley Moore. Her last film was the Rodney Dangerfield mutt Easy Money (1983). Fitzgerald died at the age of 91 in 2005.

Peter Whitney played career criminal Timothy Delaney although he went by Gabby most often. Whitney was born in 1916 in New Jersey. After his education at Exeter Academy, this large man moved to LA where he studied at the Pasadena Community Playhouse and worked in summer stock theater as well.

At the beginning of World War II, Whitney started acting in tough guy roles for Warner Bros. His films included Underground (1941), Nine Lives Are Not Enough (1941), Blues in the Night (1941), Action in the North Atlantic (1943), Destination Tokyo (1943), Mr. Skeffington (1944), the comedy Murder, He Says (1945), and Three Strangers (1946) before leaving Warner Bros. His later films include The Big Heat (1953), The Notorious Lone Wolf (1946), Blonde Alibi (1946), The Brute Man (1946), and In the Heat of the Night (1967). Whitney spent most of the 1950s working on the popular television shows. Sadly, he died at the age of 55 in 1972.  

Doris Lloyd appeared as Mrs. Proctor. Lloyd played the aptly named Mrs. Watchly in The Time Machine (1960). If she shows up again, I’ll give her the full review treatment.

Story

The movie begins with a script telling how humans have always used idols to attribute responsibility for their actions. The only reason the three people in this story met was because of the Chinese goddess Kwan Yin. The fate may or may not have been the same except for what happened that night.

Set in London in the spring of 1938, Chinese New Year, which should have been January 31, in the year of the Tiger[4], and not hardly spring. An attractive lady wearing a leopard skin coat is walking the streets making eye contact with men. One rather rotund man turns and follows her. Stalker! He follows her all the way to her apartment. She keeps checking to make sure he keeps up. Outside he tries to introduce himself, but she won’t let him. 

Three Strangers (1946)

Three Strangers (1946)

They go up to her apartment, and there is another smaller man there. The larger man is immediately suspicious. He wants to leave, but she begs him to stay. The lady says the point is that they are three strangers. The lady tells the two men that she has a statue of the Chinese goddess Kwan Yin. She also says the goddess rules over life and death as well as fortune and destiny.  She got it when she and her husband lived in Asia. The lady says that at midnight on the Chinese New Year the goddess will open up her eyes and heart to three strangers and grant their wish. The big man says the statue is made of bronze and can’t open her eyes. He says he only believes in what he can see. The small man light cigarettes for the group and offers the big man the third light. He refuses because he knows three off a match is bad luck. I have always heard that this came from World War I. When the 1st soldier lights, the enemy saw him. On the 2nd he aimed, and on the 3rd he fired. Bad luck for the third guy. I have heard the same about rattlesnakes. The 1st person wakes it up, the 2nd makes it mad, and the 3rd get bitten. I wouldn’t test this. The saying may be as old as the Crimean War, or a may be the result of people trying to sell more matches.

The three have to make the same wish, and the lady has that all worked out. The one wish that can make all the others work is money. The small guy has a sweepstakes ticket. The other two buy into the ticket and decide that it must all be put towards the race. The big man has them sign the ticket as part of their agreement. The lady is Crystal Shackleford (Geraldine Fitzgerald). The little fellow is Johnny West (Peter Lorre), and the big man is Jerome K. Arbutny (Sydney Greenstreet). Crystal places the signed ticket in the drawer of the statue.

Arbutny reveals that he would like to be invited to join the barrister’s club. Crystal wishes her husband to back. West would buy a bar. Just before midnight Crystal lights candles and they wait as Big Ben chimes. The candles blow out, and when they relight them, Johnny and Crystal think the statue has changed and opened her eyes.

Three Strangers (1946)

Three Strangers (1946)

The two men begin to leave, and everyone is formally introduced. As they go down the stairs, David Shackleford (Alan Napier) Crystal’s estranged husband, who was supposed to be in Canada walks up the steps. David is there to tell Crystal that he wants a divorce because of her past indiscretions. He is waiting for a new job and has a fancy new Canadian girlfriend. Crystal rages and David leaves.

Johnny is laid up in The Blue Crown pub. Icey Crane (Joan Lorring) knocks on the locked door and is let in to see Johnny. Icey is very fond of Johnny but warns him he has to come back to the room. He says Gabby is mad that he slipped out. Icey takes the drunken Johnny back, and the landlady Miss Proctor (Doris Lloyd) sees him come in and connects the two men staying in the room with a recent robbery and murder of a policeman. Gabby (Peter Whitney) lets Icey and Johnny back in but is really mad at Johnny for leaving the hideout. Apparently, they did do the robbery with another man named Fallon. Fallon is under arrest, but Johnny was not really involved.

Fallon is on trial, and the prosecutor (Arthur Shields) states that there were two men with him when the murder was committed.

Back in the room, Johnny is reading about the case to Gabby. Johnny does not remember anything. Gabby tells Johnny that Fallon got him drunk and told him to be a lookout. Johnny is totally innocent. Mrs. Proctor comes to the men’s room and prods them for the rent and raises the rent because she knows they are wanted. Johnny has to stop Gabby from killing her. The two men leave the boarding house for a new hideout.

Arbutny has a lawyer’s office setup like Ebenezer Scrooge. He has a young guy and an old guy that he works too hard and he screams at all the time. One of Arbutny’s rich clients Lady Rhea Belladon (Rosalind Ivan) comes to the office. He shows that he has deposited the check and she says Lord Belladon is thankful for what Arbutny is doing for his widow. Apparently, she talks to her dead husband on a regular basis. She says her dead husband advises her on everything and has high confidence in Arbutny.

Three Strangers (1946)

Three Strangers (1946)

When Lady Belladon leaves, he calls a stockbroker and asks about selling the speculative South African stock he has purchased. The way he holds the trusts law book it is clear that it is Lady Belladon’s money he has been speculating with. The broker gives him a tip that the stock is going to make a turn for the good. Arbutny lets the stock stay open.

Back at the jail Fallon, Icey, and his lawyer (Ian Wolfe) are going over the plan. In addition to Icey’s false testimony, they plan to bring in Major Beach (Stanley Logan) to lie as well. On the stand, Icey is as cool as well, ice. They totally buy her story. Then they bring up Major Beach. He tells how he spent the evening with Fallon and Icey dealing with the Oxford Movement. The Oxford Movement is easily viewed as the re-Catholicing of the Church of England. The Prosecutor then brings up the fact that Beach was only a private in the military until he was arrested for selling drugs and he had a pretty developed rap sheet.

With his alibi blown, Fallon has his lawyer change his plea to guilty, and he says he will tell on the others and says they, not he, were the ones that did the killing.

Johnny and Gabby are hiding under a bridge in London. Icey, who fled the court eventually finds the two with the help of the bartender from The Blue Crown. Johnny and Gabby know from the newspaper that Fallon lied and put the blame on them. Johnny is taking it all in stride, and Gabby just wants revenge. Icey has it fixed up where they can get a car and flee to Scotland. The only one that is not known to the police is Johnny, so he is selected to get the car and pick the other two up.

At night, Johnny and Icey have a touching conversation. His hiding has forced him to become sober. Johnny explains why he drinks. Icey pledges her love and undying devotion to Johnny. When it is time for Johnny to get the car, they make arrangements to meet by The Blue Crown. That sounds like a terrible plan. Gabby is a little worried that Johnny will get drunk and mess up the escape.

Johnny gets the car and waits outside as planned. A flower lady offers to sell Johnny some violets. At first, he refuses but later follows her into The Blue Crown where he buys the flowers of Icey. Johnny refuses a drink, and a detective quickly moves in and arrests him. He says he almost got away because he turned down the drink.

Gabby and Icey go to look for Johnny and see that he is arrested. They get in the car, and Icey finds the flowers.

Crystal goes to see Sir Robert (Holmes Herbert), the man that recommended her husband for his posting. She lies that her husband is running around and will cause a scandal if given the job. Typical ex-wife stuff.

Three Strangers (1946)

Three Strangers (1946)

Crystal invites her David to visit her apartment. Crystal makes the pitch that all of the other men mean nothing, and she wants him back. David is not buying it. He knows about what she did with Sir Robert and the job. Crystal throws every line and touch in the book at David. Finally, she kisses him, and he turns away. Crystal smashes a lite cigarette into the back of David’s hand. He momentarily chocks her, but then stops when he realizes he is being manipulated. When David leaves, Crystal calls a detective to find the location of David’s girlfriend Janet (Marjorie Riordan). Janet is wearing a hat that is definitely inspired by The Wizard of Oz (1939). It is some kind of hybrid between a witch hat and the top of a pumpkin hat that a munchkin might wear. David wants to end the relationship. Janet is not for that. Janet wants to talk to Crystal and David flatly refuses.

Janet goes back to her room, which is in a different location than where David is staying, Crystal is waiting in her room. Runnnnn! Crystal lays it on thick and says that David has been visiting her and staying the night, their relationship is strong, and the twist of the knife, that she is pregnant with David’s baby. Crystal smiles with glee as she leaves the sobbing Janet behind.

Artbutny gets a letter from the stockbrokers demanding a margin call on the stock account that has Lady Belladon’s stolen money. If he can’t pay the margin, he will lose all of the money. He blames the stockbroker and not himself.  Artbutny calls Lady Belladon and sets up an appointment for dinner. After dinner, he proposes to her, and she is quite taken aback as she is still in contact with her dead husband. She says the spirit is coming and sends him away without an answer.

Johnny is sentenced to death row after he refused to defend himself at his trial.

Arbutny gets his application to the Barrister’s Club, but he gets hung up on the part where he needs four references for integrity and personal character. Just then Lady Belladon arrives. Arbutny believes it is to answer his proposal. She says her dead husband was furious and made accusations. She not only says no, but she brings an examiner to check the books. She’s crazy like a fox.

Old Arbutny drops his club application to the floor and gives the day off to his two workers just like it was Christmas Eve. Arbutny writes a letter to Lady Belladon, takes a revolver from his drawer, carefully places papers on the floor and prepares to do himself in. With a gun in hand, he sees Kwan Yin has won the sweepstake and has the horse Corncracker.

Arbutny goes to see Crystal, and they decide that since Johnny is in jail, they will not give him his share. The ticket is now worth £10,000 but will be much more if Corncracker wins the race. Arbutny wants to sell the ticket to speculators, but Crystal holds him to the original deal. Crystal only laughs at Arbutny’s problem and what she did to David and Janet.

Three Strangers (1946)

Three Strangers (1946)

Icey goes to see the prosecutor and tells the entire truth. It doesn’t do any good for Johnny. They lock her up for perjury and say Johnny’s sentence will stand.

A policeman is taking the handcuffed Fallon to Reading prison on a train. The cop says he hates squealers. Gabby comes down the aisle and pretends to be a conductor. When they open the door, Gabby throws a knife into Fallon’s chest and then is peacefully arrested.

Johnny is told that Fallon is dead and that Gabby did it. Fallon made a deathbed confession. On the way to the warden’s office, he has a minute to make peace with Gabby through the cell bars. Gabby tells him that Icey is in jail.

Johnny goes outside of the prison and is enjoying his freedom when a man tells him that Crystal has won the sweepstake and has the horse Corncracker. He is gone in a flash to meet with the two other owners of the ticket.

David comes in to see Janet after a couple of days. She has left for Canada without leaving word for David after what Crystal told her. The hotel clerk lets him know that Crystal was there.

Arbutny makes a deal with a speculator and plans to sell the ticket to him. Shortly before the race, Arbutny is still demanding the ticket from Crystal when Johnny shows up. Johnny is happy. Arbutny tries to get Johnny to join him about the ticket, but he says it is up to Crystal. Arbutny says he is not a thief and is an honest man even though he has stolen. Crystal holds the line.

Arbutny becomes increasingly agitated. With the horses coming to post, Arbutny grabs the statue of Kwan Yin and tries to take the ticket. He and Crystal start wrestling over the statue and Arbutny crusher her head with the base of the statue. Johnny is sure she is dead. The race is being broadcast on the radio. Corncracker wins, but they can’t cash in the ticket because it now has the murdered woman’s name on the back. Johnny says he will take the ticket and destroy it. Arbutny falls completely apart.

Johnny takes him out onto the street, and Arbutny becomes increasingly deranged. As they go out, David is waiting to go up. David has a gun and is going to murder Crystal. When he finds her dead, he quietly walks back out the door. You know, he doesn’t pick up the murder weapon or leave any fingerprints. Good plan.

Arbutny keeps saying Crystal is the devil and murder has been done. A bobby comes, and they take Arbutny into custody. Johnny quietly slips away and goes to The Blue Crown. Johnny sits down at a table and looks at the ticket. He is not drinking. Icey comes in, and they are happy to see each other. He tells Icey to never get mixed up with a Chinese goddess, and the fault is not in the stars but in their selves. He tells her he has the winning sweepstake ticket and sets in on fire. Icey laughs along with what she thinks is a good joke.

Three Strangers (1946)

Three Strangers (1946)

Notes

I am very confused. The goddess gives Arbutny an invitation to the Barrister’s Club, it gave Crystal the return of her husband, it set David free from his crazy wife. But it rewarded and reformed Johnny. It gave him true love and the ability to not drink. But it cost Fallon and Gabby their lives. Okay. But why? Was Johnny pure and other two ticket holders flawed and evil? I can’t figure it out. Write me and tell me your theories.

World-Famous Short Summary – Never get mixed up with a Chinese goddess. It’s the worst.

I hope you enjoyed today’s show. I really appreciate you spending the time listening. You can find connections to social media and email on my site at classicmovierev.com. There are links in the podcast show notes as well. Remember this show is completely free and independent. All I ask is that you jump over to Apple Podcast and give me a review. It really helps the show get found.

Beware the moors

[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0039029/
[2] https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/three_strangers
[3] https://www.nytimes.com/1946/02/23/archives/the-screen-3-strangers-with-geraldine-fitzgerald-greenstreet-and.html
[4] http://www.chinesenewyears.info/chinese-new-year-calendar.php

Three Strangers (1946)

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