Edward G. Robinson played many ethnic types in his career, including
sinister Chinese types in THE HATCHET MAN and Greek seamen in TIGER
SHARK. But he played many Italian - Americans, mostly involved in
criminal activities. Best known is his Rico Bandello in LITTLE CAESAR,
but he also did Remy Marko in A SLIGHT CASE OF MURDER. And there is the
more respectable, but still illegal gentleman in this film, Gino
Monetti. Living in the middle of Little Italy in a mansion, Monetti
started out as a barber, living in a single room with his wife Theresa
(Esther Minciotti), and his four sons. They grow up to be Joe (Luther
Adler), Max (Richard Conte), Tony (Efrem Zimberlist Jr.), and Pietro
Monetti's views of his Italian heritage and his adopted land's culture are mixed. He loves the music of his homeland - he's frequently playing opera (Rossini's THE BARBER OF SEVILLE sung by Lawrence Tibbett is heard at one point on his record player). He does have a sense of tradition: every Wednesday Theresa cooks a big dinner for the family, and everyone has to come (including Max's fiancé Maria Domenico - Debra Paget - and her mother Helena Domenico - Hope Emerson - and Joe's wife Elena - Diana Douglas). Gino will talk about how different life in America is, where a man does not have to forever be in the same job as his father, or where cities grow upward due to skyscrapers. But he treats three of his sons as servants. Joe, who is his oldest, is asked to scrub Gino's back in the bathtub, or has to chauffeur his father around, and is only a clerk in the bank (although called first Vice President). Pietro is referred to as "dumb-head" because he likes to work on a boxing career rather than an office job. Tony is a lady's man, always quiet and well dressed, and dismissed by his father as a weakling. Only Max has gained the old man's respect - he became an attorney (and a pretty good one).
The bank itself is a mixed concern. When Frank Puglia asks for a $150.00 loan to buy a horse, he only gets $120.00 as $30.00 is taken off the top as interest on the new loan (later the loan has escalated to being $280.00). A poor woman needing money, however, gets the money without any interest being given. It later develops that Gino is lousy with bookkeeping, and resents government interest in his bank, but he is an intelligent banker, on the whole a decent guy, but he occasionally turns into a usurer.
Max, although engaged to Maria, meets a socialite named Irene Bennett (Susan Hayward), who initially hires him to help an ex-boyfriend who robbed her. They gradually get into an affair, which threatens the engagement to Maria. Hayward's jealousy eventually leads to a break in it. At just that time, government actions close the bank and lead to a trial for Gino on serious fraud charges. Max tries to defend him, but he finds Gino too hot-tempered on the witness stand. He talks about the case with Joe (who is not too interested in whether the old man goes to jail or not), and says that possibly if they bribe a juror they can save Gino. Joe refuses to help. Max tries to bribe the juror, but finds himself arrested instead. It results in his disbarment and seven years in prison. Gino is not sent to prison, but finds the bank reorganized by Joe, Tony, and Pietro, and he is put out to pasture. Still Gino encourages hatred in Max to his brothers, pointing out that Joe probably tipped off the police about the bribery attempt.
So Max leaves prison to confront his three siblings, and to see if he can resume life with Irene. And Joe, Tony (who has married Maria), and Pietro wonder if Max is going to be a troublemaker.
The film captured an aspect of life on the lower East side rarely shown in films - how did banks work in those immigrant enclaves? This was before major banks had branches around the cities, and small local banks (like Monetti's) were common. And were run in the same haphazard manner until the Depression made the government take a closer look. The film, directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, crackles with good dialog (and steamy lines too - particularly between Conte and Hayward). Robinson's Gino is memorable - not a really bad man, but one who forgot certain simple family rules regarding his sons. Even minor characters have good moments: Hope Emerson's fury at Conte's flaunting his affair with Hayward leads to a confrontation scene, and the dinner at the Monetti's reveals how Diana Douglas (Kirk's wife) is a non-Italian mainliner that Luther Adler married, who barely likes her in-laws (she can't stand spaghetti dinners, and wants him to have a promised raise so she can entertain HER friends). It is a rewarding movie about social mobility and it's pitfalls in the urban immigrant circles.
House of Strangers
Crime / Drama / Film-Noir / Thriller
House of Strangers
Crime / Drama / Film-Noir / Thriller
In New York, after seven years in prison, the lawyer Max Monetti goes to the bank of his brothers Joe, Tony and Pietro Monetti and promises revenge to them. Then he visits his lover Irene Bennett that asks him to forget the past and start a new life. Max recalls the early 30s, when he is the favorite son of his father Gino Monetti, who has a bank in the East Side. Gino is a tyrannical and egocentric self-made man that raises his family in an environment of hatred and Max is a competent lawyer engaged with Maria Domenico. When Max meets the confident Irene, he has a troubled love affair with her. In 1933, with the new Banking Act reaches Gino for misapplication of funds. Max plots a plan to help his father but is betrayed by his brothers. Now Max will see his brothers that have also being raised under the motto "Never Forgive, Never Forget".
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