Never Love A Stranger – 1958

Never Love A Stranger with John Drew Barrymore

Never Love a Stranger 1958 – Featuring John Drew Barrymore, Lita Milan and Robert Bray

Gangster films in which two friends from childhood grow up to be on opposite sides of the law are plentiful, but Never Love a Stranger is unique for its era by identifying the specific ethnic backgrounds of the players, a central part of an the irony in the story. Steve McQueen is a "jewboy" getting beat up on the streets of New York City, and John Drew Barrymore plays a budding would-be criminal who is named Francis and lives at a local Catholic orphanage. Out of pity he takes the McQueen character under his wing and teaches him how to defend himself from the street bullies who enjoy hounding and beating him up because he's a Jew. Lita Milan is McQueen's sister and a romantic attraction develops with Francis, but before this can get too far along the plot intrudes and the local protection racket run by 'Silk' Fennelli (Robert Bray) messes up everyone's life and sends Francis on a multiyear odyssey away from New York City.

A straight-up gangster/melodrama, Never Love a Stranger has a lot of cheese sabotaging the film. The script and dialogue are under-developed (the film is derived from a Harold Robbins novel) with a significant amount of familiar gangster-tormented-love cliches on display. From the start there is an intrusive narrative voice-over that reduces whatever dramatics are being attempted (and though the cast is fine, particularly the young Steve McQueen and Salem Ludwig as weary Jewish gangster Moishe Moscowitz) the narrator is heard in a series of mini-lectures and explanations to assure the audience that the life of a hoodlum is a poor choice for the youth of America, this in contrast to the screen showing us that slums controlled by organized crime don't really leave a lot of choices on the table.

Simply put, the cast cannot overcome the way the film is put together. The musical score is a repeating batch of melody lines which become much too familiar, and transitions between scenes and sections of the story are not exactly smooth.

McQueen, Milan and Barrymore are fun to watch at times. Though the film's theme contains a typical 1950's message that society and culture can be a crushing weight on the sensitive youth of the land, what really comes across is that a badly packaged movie is more an opponent against the cast (and audience) than are these filmdom gangsters.

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Original page November 6, 2022