30 August 2008 | Howard_B_Eale
broad comedy with dramatic strokes
Though STRANGERS ALL is a very much a product of the stage, based on a play by Marie M. Bercovici, director Charles Vidor (no relation to King Vidor) does a good job of transcending its origins by keeping things moving at a brisk clip. The camera darts and circles around the constantly bickering Carter family, headed by matriarch May Robson (in a deceptively restrained and terrific performance) and blow-hard elder son Preston Foster.
It would be misleading to merely label this film a "weepie", as it is far more reliant on broad comedy: James Bush's over-the-top portrayal as radical Communist son, Lewis, prefigures Preston Sturges (and it's an offensive characterization to be sure, but undeniably funny); the central financial dilemma in the film is played for laughs; third son Dicky (William Bakewell, in one of the film's lesser performances) is an absolutely pathetic ham actor. In fact, if there's any consistency to the characterizations, its that every member of the family is basically a loser - even mom, for all her wise observations, is quite naive. When the film attempts a melodramatic climax and more or less shuns the comedy, it's not as effective, but somehow it all works well enough.
Look fast for an unbelievably young Ward Bond as, well, "Ward" - a beleaguered assistant director on a film-within-the-film movie set (one of the movie's better sequences).