Mank Bank

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Strange — I tried watching HOUSE OF STRANGERS once before — it’s Joseph L Mankiewicz, after all — and bailed on it. Revisiting for this fortnight’s Forgotten By Fox, I found it excellent. The thing is, on first viewing I regarded Edward G. Robinson as the main attraction, and he’s a little disappointing here. Most of the fun to be had is with Richard Conte and Susan Hayward and Luther Adler, though I somehow failed to mention the last-named in my piece.

Here.

6 Responses to “Mank Bank”

  1. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    I saw this movie on DVD back in the old days before Disney bought Fox during a Mankiewicz kick.

    I have to say I didn’t like it as much as you did. Richard Conte is an amazing performer and a great screen presence as always but the entire background of Italian-American details felt caricaturish and I found Edward G. Robinson’s character unbelievable. A lot of people over the years promoted House of Strangers as an original to The Godfather but the connections are tenuous and superfluous, and ultimately Mankiewicz was too much of a Rockefeller Republican (both here and The Quiet American) to go as far as Coppola did in making his immigrant potboiler into a reflection and critique of America. Likewise you appreciate how much further Coppola and Scorsese went in making Italian-Americans into three dimensional characters who escaped panto typecasting, and likewise appreciate how rare and new the Italian-American experience was in depiction.

    To me House of Strangers becomes interesting if you contrast it with It’s A Wonderful Life and it’s naive sentimentalization of small community banks which House of Strangers sees more critically. Among Mankiewicz’s stuff, I rank it lower than his really best films — No Way Out, The Honey Pot, All About Eve, 5 Fingers, Cleopatra, A Letter to Three Wives, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. I’d rank it alongside his adaptation of The Quiet American in terms of being quiet misguided and dubious although The Quiet American is a more capable production all things considered.

  2. Funnily enough, it’s 5 Fingers I could never get into, and I was wildly enthusiastic about the idea of the director and cast getting together to make a film about espionage, which seemed a very Mankiewiczian subject.

    I basically agree with all your criticisms of the Robinson part, though I guess in movie terms the cliches hadn’t really been put on film before. Obviously Coppola had a great advantage over JLM in terms of familiarity with the world of prosperous Italianamericans (though not criminals), which pays off in spades, and I guess we do have to give Robert Evans credit for realising how important an insider’s eye would be.

  3. David Ehrenstein Says:

    The very first review Godard wrote for “Cahiers du Cinema” was of “House of Strangers” Mankiewicz is to Godard as Hitchcock is to Truffaut. His most Mankiewiczian movie is of course “Contempt”

    Richard Conte was Marty”s mother’s favorite actor.

  4. I wish Scorsese had put Conte in something. He deserves to be more celebrated.

  5. Sudarshan Ramani Says:

    Scorsese once said that Conte along with Richard Widmark, Robert Ryan, and Robert Mitchum was part of a wave of post-war male stars who were rougher edged and who could shift from being heroes to villains or characters in-between. Of the lot only Mitchum made it big, while Ryan attained fame as a character actor and Widmark (who appeared in No Way Out as the villain) is similar.

    Conte’s best roles like in The Big Combo, The Brothers’ Rico, Thieves’ Highway, The Blue Gardenia, were films noir or obscure b-pictures, so he never got over in the way he should have. Not his fault. I love the fact that Coppola cast him as Barzini, the true mastermind in The Godfather, it was a wonderful tribute to one of the first real Italian-American stars in Hollywood, and also his own acknowledgement to House of Strangers.

  6. It’s part of why Conte’s stuff in this film is much, much better than Robinson’s: authenticity. Cry of the City is another good one where he infuses it with real ethnic character.

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