WE WERE STRANGERS ( 1949 )

by Robert Regan ~ posted September 5th, 2017

Director: John Huston

True, this is not one of Anjelica’s daddy’s best movies, but it is quite fascinating, particularly considering when it was made. It’s hard to believe that a story of revolutionary assassins got off the ground in 1949 when Hollywood’s Red Scare had been brewing and stewing for two years already. Of course, as usual in American films, there was not even a hint of political views in this film beyond the desire for freedom from tyranny, and the lead was played by ‘Saint Bernadette’, so they couldn’t possibly have been, dare I say it… Communists.

Now Jennifer Jones, for whom I have been developing, in recent years, much more admiration and respect than I had when I was younger, had started to break away from her “nice girl” image with “Duel in the Sun.” “We Were Strangers” was part of her apparent wish in the late forties and early fifties to “get more serious” and international, as in “Gone to Earth” with Powell & Pressburger, “Indiscretion of an American Wife” with Vittorio De Sica, and “Beat the Devil” again with John Huston. None of these movies were popular at the time, and she reverted to more “conventional” filmmaking, but they all showed an adventurous and ambitious spirit not generally seen among her contemporaries.

In “We Were Strangers” she was burdened, as was the entire cast of Anglos and Latinos, with the stilted speech patterns American movies always seemed to give to Spanishspeaking people, but she did an admirable job of totally avoiding the “cutes” which appeared to be second nature to her.

During this same period, Huston was also experimenting with European production and, more importantly, with different styles of cinematography. “The Red Badge of Courage” took its visual cue from Matthew Brady’s Civil War photographs, “Moulin Rouge’s” look was based on the colors and shapes of Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings and prints, and “Moby Dick” emulated the nineteenth-century lithographs of sea-faring men.

At first, “We Were Strangers” appears to have a noir look about it, but after a while it becomes clear that its lighting, framing, and cutting are inspired by the “foreign” movies the U.S. was seeing in the post-War era in greater numbers than ever before. If it had been in Spanish, French, or Italian with subtitles, it might have been an art house hit here.

“We Were Strangers” also features John Garfield, Gilbert Roland, Pedro Armendariz and Ramon Novarro.

 

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