Warner Bros. again teamed up the menacing duo of Greenstreet and Lorre under director Negulesco, who had made his debut with the team in the superior THE MASK OF DIMITRIOS (1944). Set in shadowy London, THREE STRANGERS begins on the eve of the Chinese New Year. Three strangers--shady
lawyer Greenstreet; Lorre, an alcoholic, small-time hood; and Fitzgerald, a woman separated from her straying husband--meet on the street and eventually make their way to Fitzgerald's apartment. There she shows them the statuette of Kwan Yin, a Chinese idol. Legend has it that at midnight on the
New Year, the idol will open its eyes and grant a wish to three strangers. Greenstreet would like to be admitted into an exclusive barrister's club; Lorre would like to open his own tavern; and Fitzgerald would like to get back together with her husband. Just at midnight, however, the candle
lighting the room goes out, and the trio cannot see whether Kwan Yin has opened her eyes. To stave off the disappointment, Lorre produces a sweepstakes ticket he has purchased and allows the other two to buy into it (they sign the ticket with the pseudonym "Kwan Yin") in the hope that they'll get
lucky. Bad luck, however, is all that follows. Greenstreet learns that he is about to be revealed as an embezzler and contemplates committing suicide. Lorre is framed for the murder of a policeman and it looks as if he'll hang. Fitzgerald's husband has fallen in love with another woman and won't
be coming back. But once again luck plays a part, and Lorre is set free by the dying confession of the real murderer. Greenstreet tries to sell his share of the sweepstakes ticket in order to replace the money which he embezzled, but Fitzgerald puts up a fight. There is a struggle, and the crazed
Greenstreet kills the woman by bashing her on the head with the statuette of the Chinese goddess. Just as the murder is committed, it is revealed that the sweepstakes ticket is a winner and now worth 30,000 pounds. The killing drives Greenstreet hopelessly insane. Lorre, who holds the valuable
ticket, decides it is much too dangerous to collect on it (it will tie him to Fitzgerald's murder), so he burns it in the hope that his life will return to normal.
Screenwriter Huston came up with the idea for THREE STRANGERS in 1936 after he had bought a strange statuette in London which he decided was Burmese in origin. He went to visit a friend, and as he relates in his autobiography: "Somebody present had a sheet of Irish Sweepstakes tickets, and it was
proposed that we sign with a pseudonym. `Burmese' sounded like a good pseudonym to me, so I took some tickets jointly and some singly, and signed them `Burmese.' " The day's events inspired Huston to write the story which would become THREE STRANGERS. Author Huston's odd story appears to have been
a portent of things to come; his initial directorial effort, Dashiell Hammett's novel The Maltese Falcon, also dealt with a mysterious statuette, and introduced the duo of Lorre and Greenstreet. British director Alfred Hitchcock was interested in Huston's story and wanted to direct it, but studio
head Michael Balcon wasn't so enthusiastic, and the project never materialized. When Huston returned to the US, he worked on the screenplay with Howard Koch for Warner Bros. (British author John Collier is said to have had a hand in the screenplay as well, but he is not credited), and it sat on
the shelf until after WW II. By this time Huston had become a director in his own right and had created the team of Greenstreet and Lorre in THE MALTESE FALCON (1941). He had intended to star Humphrey Bogart, Greenstreet, and Mary Astor as the "Three Strangers," but he soon went off to war and the
project eventually went into other hands. Greenstreet and Lorre proved such a popular duo that they were teamed up several times in both supporting and starring roles. Huston's mysterious, gripping, and ironic script was finally filmed in 1945 under the direction of Negulesco, who conveyed the
moments of suspense and terror with considerable flair. The actors all have a field day with the delicious situation and dialog, but Lorre is the real standout. As is the case with most of the Greenstreet-Lorre team-ups, this is great fun.
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