Monday, June 20, 2011

When Strangers Marry (1944)

When Strangers Marry, later re-released as Betrayed is a little concoction under the direction of William Castle and produced by King Brother Productions in 1944. William Castle is well known to kids of my generation as the greatest director to grace the studios of Hollywood. To some others he may be known as the King, or at the very least, the Crown Prince of Schlock for directing and self-promoting a string of films that were as much pure hokum as anything put on the screen up to that time.

Before finding his true calling and delighting millions of Baby Boomers in the postwar prosperity years of the 50’s and into the early 60’s, Castle directed a number of noir and noir-like films. During a run in the mid to late 40’s he was behind the camera on several of the Whistler and Crime Doctor series films. Later in the decade and into the mid-fifties he directed such noirs as Johnny Stool Pigeon, Undertow, The Fatman, Hollywood Story, New Orleans Uncensored and The Houston Story. For whatever reason, he seems to have developed a fondness for noirs with city names in their titles. As the fifties were rolling down he, like hundreds of others from the studios found themselves grinding out weekly TV programs.

Fortunately for the generation raised on the red scare and atomic radiation, Castle came along in the late 50’s and reminded us there were other things to terrify us besides saucers from space, bugs, lizards, spiders, and men and women of gigantic proportions. He gave us ghosts, demented killers and this really creepy but suave guy named Vincent Price. Castle was a kid’s answer to Hitchcock with his face always popping up in the previews of his coming films and he always seemed to be enjoying himself as much as we were.

If the thought of seeing ghosts and killers running amok wasn’t enough to get you into the theater, Castle had a slew of ingenious gimmicks. These included the issuance of a $1000.00 life insurance policy to any customer that died while viewing Macabre, and the “Cowards Corner” for those would walked out of the film Homicidal. My personal favorites were his string of “O” movie experience enhancements. These included “Emergo,” “Percepto” and “Illusion-o.” Lastly, what discussion of Castle would be complete without mention of the electronic buzzers placed under selected theater seats during the screening of The Tingler to generate a real buzz to the viewer?

The production company of When Strangers Marry run by the three King Brothers was not unlike Castle. Meaning that while, the King Brothers put out some good to very good noir; Dillinger, The Gangster, Gun Crazy and Southside 1-1000, we also have them to thank for such masterpieces as Klondike Fury, The Dude Goes West, and the “Godzilla” rip-off Gorgo. That said the Kings were not shy about bringing in talent to make the films they produced even going so far as to employ those among the Hollywood Ten; director Edward Dmytryk and writer Dalton Trumbo. It was in fact a King Production, The Brave One for which Trumbo, writing using the front Robert Rich, won the Oscar for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story in 1956.

So while there’s no buzzer to tingle one’s posterior or a hint of anything resembling Emergo or a Cowards Corner, When Strangers Marry does have a certain amount of entertainment in the shear bringing together of a bevy youthful talent on the cusp of stardom mixed with a goodly amount of old hand character actors.

The story itself is as transparent as good gin, but that’s beside the point. Suffice to say there’s a murder, a robbery, and the cops. So while Hamlet may have said “The play’s the thing,” in this case it’s the watching of new talent gracing the screen that’s worth the price of admission.

The heavyweight in the cast is Dean Jagger with 10 years of screen work under his belt but still five years away from taking home the Oscar for best supporting actor in the WWII drama, Twelve O’clock High.

The real fun stars with female lead, Kim Hunter in only her third film role and several years away from her most famous role (Planet of the Apes aside) as Stella in her Oscar winning role in Streetcar Named Desire.

Lastly, “Old Rumple Eyes” himself, Robert Mitchum makes his initial entrance into the dark world of noir. Prior to his third billing in When Strangers Marry, Mitchum had spent the year of 1943 in a string of war dramas and westerns playing soldiers, sailors and cowpokes. To coin a phrase, with his role in When Strangers Marry he’d found his niche. Oh sure, following this film he found himself in more westerns (Nevada and West of the Pecos) and war dramas (Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo and The Story of G.I. Joe) but within two years he ran off a string of noirs; Undercurrent, The Locket, Crossfire, and Out of the Past. To coin another phrase, from that point on “The die was cast,” and we as viewers were the lucky recipients.

As noted, these young up and comers were given a great deal of support by the likes of Neil Hamilton, Lou Lubin, Dewey Robinson (with the best pair of eyebrows this side of Wally Moon), George Lloyd, Minerva Urecal, and a 21 year old beauty by the name of Rhonda Fleming. Making only her third screen appearance it would only be three years before she and Mitchum would square off in Out of the Past. She would also go on to appear in a number of noirs, the last being 1956’s While the City Sleeps. Ironically, she’d play opposite Vincent Price in the film just three years before he became Castle’s star in House On a Haunted Hill.

It also needs to be noted the subject about which all the hub bud in When Strangers Marry revolves around is the murder and robbery of one of the period’s favorite real heavy weights, Dick Elliott. He like the rest of the supporting players has a long list of noir credits. One such actor is Byron Foulger who shares the dubious distinction with another actor of neither speaking nor acting but appearing in the film. To pull off this trick the actors photographs are merely shown. Oh, by the way, the other actor is some bit player by the name of William Castle. It’s just one more example of the showmanship of Castle.

Written by Raven

1 comment:

  1. "When Strangers Marry" is an entertaining noir that packs a lot in a short running time. It's interesting to look at Castle's noirs (such as the Whister films), which on the whole are played straight, and then note the change in tone when he began making horror, especially the films w/Price--w/tongue planted firmly in cheek.


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