16 January 2009 | bkoganbing
In The Hope Of Fortune Coming Their Way
The time is 1938 London before the World War. A woman of mystery, Geraldine Fitzgerald, invites two perfect strangers played by Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet up to her apartment. She's a believer in the ancient Chinese god of Kwan Lin and it's said that if Three Strangers wish on that deity and their's is the same wish it will be granted. In this case the wish is money and it's in the form of a sweepstakes ticket that Peter Lorre has purchased and who gives two thirds away to Fitzgerald and Greenstreet in the hope of fortune coming their way.
After this we see a glimpse of the lives of the three people. Lorre is a petty criminal who's gotten himself into a beautiful jackpot being accused of a murder that he didn't commit. Fitzgerald is a shrewish wife who stays married to an unhappy Alan Napier who just wants to be free to marry Marjorie Riordan. This is a harbinger of a role that Fitzgerald really perfected a dozen years later in Ten North Frederick. As for Greenstreet, he's a solicitor, an attorney of no great significance in the legal profession, an English version of a man whose name I was once threatened with named Abe Hecht. It's now become a synonym for cheap shysters with me. Anyway Greenstreet's the trustee of an estate he's been dipping into. He wants to make a financial killing real bad because he thinks that money will buy him respectability which he craves like nothing else.
The film is like a 90 minute version of a Twilight Zone episode, but that's not a putdown because some really classic stuff was done on that program. The script was written by Howard Koch and John Huston and directed by Jean Negulesco. I'm surprised Huston did not want to direct this one himself, but Jean Negulesco got some of the best performances that members of the cast ever gave on screen, especially from the three leads.
Notice no really big movie names are in this cast, no leading men screen legends. That may have been an asset to the film because it concentrates on the story and the characters created. The ironic fates of all three of the sweepstakes ticket sharers could have come right out of the imaginative mind of Rod Serling. And Peter Lorre is actually allowed a little romance in a movie. That alone makes Three Strangers absolutely priceless.
Three Strangers is a B picture gem, one of those low budget sleepers that Hollywood puts out to great critical acclaim that turn a profit because of the low budget. And this review is dedicated to that attorney Abe Hecht whom I never met and to his idiot brother-in-law Morris Stetch who threatened me with him back in 1979. To see if Greenstreet obtains the status of a Clarence Darrow and rises from Abe Hechtdom, don't miss Three Strangers.