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Three Strangers

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Title: Three Strangers  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: John Huston, Peter Lorre, 1946 in film, Sydney Greenstreet, Jean Negulesco, Reginald Sheffield, Alan Napier, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Joan Lorring, Arthur Edeson
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Three Strangers

Three Strangers
theatrical release poster
Directed by Jean Negulesco
Produced by Wolfgang Reinhardt
Written by John Huston
Howard Koch
Starring Sydney Greenstreet
Geraldine Fitzgerald
Peter Lorre
Music by Adolph Deutsch
Cinematography Arthur Edeson
Editing by George Amy
Studio Warner Bros.
Release date(s) January 28, 1946 (US)
Running time 92 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Three Strangers (1946) is a Warner Bros. film noir[1] crime drama, starring Sydney Greenstreet, Geraldine Fitzgerald, and Peter Lorre, and featuring Joan Lorring and Alan Napier. It was directed by Jean Negulesco from a script by John Huston and Howard Koch.


Crystal Shackelford (Geraldine Fitzgerald) lures two strangers, solicitor Jerome K. Arbutny (Sydney Greenstreet) and charming and erudite drunkard Johnny West (Peter Lorre) to her London flat on Chinese New Year in 1938 because of her belief that if three strangers make the same wish to an idol of Kwan Yin, Chinese goddess of fortune and destiny, the wish will be granted. Since money will make their dreams come true, the three go in on a sweepstakes ticket for the Grand National horse race together and agree that they will not sell the ticket if it is chosen, but will hold onto it until the race is run. Shackelford would use the money to try to win her estranged husband back, Arbutny to smooth the way for his selection to the prestigious Barrister's Club, and Johnny to buy a bar and live in it.

The stories of the three strangers are revealed. Shackelford's husband David (Alan Napier) moved to Canada and fell in love with Janet Elliot (Marjorie Riordan). He returns, just after Johnny and Arbutny take their leave of Crystal, and demands a divorce, but she refuses. She sees to it that he loses a promotion. She also lies to Janet, telling her that David still loves her and that she is pregnant. The trusting woman believes her and returns to Canada.

With the help of an adoring Icey Crane (Joan Lorring), Johnny has been hiding out after his drunken participation in a botched robbery that resulted in the death of a policeman. Icey commits perjury in order to provide an alibi for the murderer and ringleader, Bertram Fallon (Robert Shayne). When a second witness is discredited, Fallon confesses to the robbery but blames the murder on West and the third man involved, Gabby (Peter Whitney). Johnny is caught and sentenced to death, but Gabby finds Fallon on his way to prison and stabs him. As he dies in the railway carriage, Fallon clears Johnny.

Arbutny has been speculating in stocks with money from the trust fund of Lady Rhea Belladon (Rosalind Ivan), an eccentric widow who believe she can talk with her dead husband. When the stock falls and his margin is called, a desperate Arbutny proposes to Lady Belladon. After consulting with her dead husband, she turns him down. Worse, she says that Lord Belladon wants to have the books checked. Arbutny is about to shoot himself when he sees in a newspaper that the sweepstakes ticket has drawn the favorite in the Grand National.

The three strangers converge on Crystal's flat. Arbutny wants to sell his share of the ticket immediately so he can replace the funds he stole before his crime can be uncovered. Johnny is willing, but Shackelford is adamant that they stick to their original agreement. Arbutny becomes enraged and kills her with her statue of Kwan Yin. Ironically, they hear on the radio that their horse wins. Johnny points out to Arbutny that the winning ticket has to be destroyed because their agreement and signatures on it would provide a motive for Crystal's murder. They leave the flat, but Arbutny is overcome by guilt, and panics and runs out into the middle of the busy street. He stops traffic and attracts a crowd, including a policeman, to whom Arbutny confesses the murder.

Johnny returns to the pub, where Icey finds him. Content with her, he sets the ticket on fire.



Three Strangers was in production from early January to mid-February 1945. Its original title was Three Men and a Girl,[2] and Bette Davis and George Brent were originally to be the leads. At one point, the story was considered for a sequel of sorts to The Maltese Falcon, and Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet and Mary Astor were to star. However, according to Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies, Warner Bros. discovered the rights to the characters had reverted to Dashiell Hammett. Because Warners had owned the rights since 1937, actors considered for the role of "Jerome K. Arbutny" were Lionel Atwill, Donald Crisp, Ian Hunter and Claude Rains, while Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis were considered to play "Crystal Shackelford". For the third starring role, that of "Johnny West," Errol Flynn, David Niven, Leslie Howard, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Robert Montgomery were considered.[3] But by 1945, Leslie Howard was dead - which makes the eventual casting of Peter Lorre in the part all the more interesting, since he was cast totally against type as the romantic lead. Director Jean Negulesco was a fan of Lorre's work and fought hard to give him the role.[4]

John Huston was inspired to write the story by a wooden figure he bought in an antique shop while working in London. Later, events at a party in his flat suggested to Huston the story of three strangers sharing a sweepstakes ticket. Alfred Hitchcock was at the gathering, and liked the story when Huston told it to him, but nothing came of it. Huston returned to Hollywood, and Warners bought the treatment in 1937. Huston went on to write the script with his friend Howard Koch. When the film finally went into production, Huston was not available to direct it, because he was a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps.[3][5]

Two American release dates for Three Strangers can be found: 28 January 1946[6] and 16 February 1946.[2] It's possible that the first date is the premiere, and the later one the actual date of general release.


In its 1946 review, Variety said:

Greenstreet overplays to some extent as the attorney who has raided a trust fund, but he still does a good job. Lorre is tops as a drunk who gets involved in a murder of which he's innocent, while Fitzgerald rates as the victim.[7]

Bosley Crowther in the New York Times wrote that same year:

[T]he action [...] is full-bodied melodrama of a shrewd and sophisticated sort. Never so far away from reason that it is wholly incredible but obviously manufactured fiction, it makes a tolerably tantalizing show, reaching some points of fascination in a few of its critical scenes.[8]



External links

  • Internet Movie Database
  • AllRovi
  • TCM Movie Database
  • New York Times
  • Variety
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