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“Did you know you brought up a houseful of strangers?” Richard Conte’s character asks in House of Strangers.
This family-driven film noir was released in 1949 and was unique because it filmed on location – a rarity at the time – and was shot in sequence.
The gripping tale of revenge and responsibility is cleverly brought to life by Conte, Susan Hayward, and the great Edward G. Robinson. Years later, the story was even adapted into a western called Broken Lance starring Spencer Tracy.
1. The real screenwriter went uncredited.
The script underwent a major rewrite by Director Joseph Mankiewicz. However, when the Screenwriters Guild wanted the director to share the screen credit with the first writer, Philip Yordan, he refused and wasn’t credited at all. His unique style is clearly evident in the biting dialogue, especially between Richard Conte and Susan Hayward. Mankiewicz would go on to win two Oscars for his other scripts, A Letter to Three Wives and All About Eve.
2. It was part of the film noir boom.
Film noir was becoming increasingly popular, as audiences became wrapped up in the shadowy morality tales. While the film was based on I’ll Never Go There Any More by Jerome Weidman, in actuality, it was only an adaption of a chapter which featured the character Max Maggio, a criminal lawyer. Just as in House of Strangers, this man’s life is forever changed when he is sent to jail for his father’s crimes. Producer Sol C. Siegel wanted John Garfield to play the lead, but Richard Conte won the part instead.
3. It was boycotted.
Mankiewicz made the mistake of making a crack at the movie exhibitors in a Life Magazine article, stating that their "chief concerns should be taking gum off carpets and checking adolescent love-making in the balcony." As a result, they chose to boycott his film. The film also had a limited release because the head of the studio, Spyrous Skouras, felt that the Italian family was actually being used to poke fun at his Greek family.
4. Conte was the third billed.
Despite being the main character of the picture, Richard Conte was actually billed behind Edward G. Robinson and Susan Hayward (in her first Fox film). Hayward’s performance so impressed the studio that they signed her for a seven year contract. Hayward was paid $5 thousand dollars a week and was allowed to choose who did her makeup, costumes, and even cinematography. She also learned how to box from Mushy Callahan, who played a referee and trained several of the actors.
5. It has ties to Scarlet Street.
Milton Krasner was the director of photography for House of Strangers and Scarlet Street, which also starred Edward G. Robinson. Interestingly, Scarlet Street also features a painting that casts a shadow on the main character in the beginning, only to be undermined in the end. Robinson was disappointed with Strangers, however, because some of his scenes were cut.