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"Never Love A Stranger" was taken from an early Harold Robbins book and gave Steve McQueen his first significant role in films. Unfortunately, it is sub-standard in all respects and I would only recommend it to fanatic McQueen fans intent on seeing any and all of his film appearances. The budget must have been minuscule, since the production looks like it would have been cheap even for 50's television. The lighting, sets, and sound are all inferior. The writing is laughably bad and the direction has no sense of pace and certainly no dramatic depth. The lead is John Drew Barrymore, son of the Great Profile and father of Drew. He's not awful, and does what he can with the role, but he and all the other actors are weighed down by the dreadful script and direction. McQueen does not do much better. He is miscast, playing a nice Jewish boy...yes, Steve McQueen plays a nice Jewish boy, you read that right. Not only that, but he begins the film having to be taught how to box and defend himself by Barrymore. Then he grows up to be the noble, honorable district attorney out to get his gangster childhood friend. More astute future casting directors would eventually discover that McQueen's true forte was as the tough rebel and loner, not the goody two-shoes. Moreover, he is given no chance to shine, no scenes to dominate. Its all Barrymore's picture and McQueen is strictly there in support. Lita Milan is also in the picture as Barrymore's girl, and she's awful too.
"Never Love A Stranger" is a badly directed movie with very poor
dialogue, and an off-screen narrator pompously intoning meaningless
platitudes.. The basic story is borrowed from several better films, and
consequently has few surprises for the audience. However the film is of
interest for other reasons.
The first major turning point in the story is based on an extraordinarily racist idea. A mother had died giving birth to a baby who is brought up in a Catholic orphanage. When the child is in his teens, it is discovered that his mother was Jewish. Although the boy has been raised from birth as a Christian, it is decided that he should be removed from the orphanage because it is felt that his parentage prevents him from being a Christian! Can any student of the Catholic Church in America confirm or deny that this kind of racist nonsense ever occurred?
Steve McQueen gives an early career performance, and already it is strikingly obvious that he has a rapport with the movie camera. Interestingly, so too has John Drew Barrymore, which raises the question of why did his movie career not prosper. Lita Milan has a strong and interesting face that is not conventionally beautiful. Thanks to Lee Garmes' lighting and to her heavy eye shadow, she seems better looking than she really is. R. G. Armstong comes in late in the movie, playing a hired assassin. Wearing glasses and city clothes, he is almost unrecognisable from the westerners he played in Sam Peckinpah's movies. Only his eyes remind the audience that they have seen him somewhere before.
The IMDb states incorrectly that Dorothy Collins is not given a screen credit, Yes she is, and so too is lyricist Lawrence Elow.
It is regrettable that "Never Love A Stranger" is such a weak movie. Buried beneath the shoddy dialogue and implausible characterisation is a workable story, struggling to emerge.
Never Love a Stranger (1958)
You might be most impressed by the early appearance of Steve McQueen, who shows a spark and intensity that makes him rise above the rest of the cast, who are really rather good in all. It says something about star power, which isn't all smoke and mirrors. You might also get a kick that the leading male (McQueen is secondary) is played by John Drew Barrymore, son of the famous John and father of the famous Drew. Sadly, this man of the generation in the middle was troubled and had a mixture of leading roles, never achieving greatness or fame.
If the plot is a familiar one about two slum kids in New York growing up into opposite roles, one a thug, the other the area's district attorney (there are several of these films), there is another theme that makes the movie singular. That is the issue of being Jewish, and at times downright anti-Semitism, though handled with kid gloves. The fighting between Catholic boys and the one Jewish kid (McQueen) is standard clan rivalry, with a religious twist. But when the other character, raised in a Catholic orphanage, discovers he is actually Jewish, his first reaction is rebellion. And the movie carries this theme throughout, adding a good if forced second level to work with.
I'm not sure it matters, but it's interesting, at least, that McQueen and Barrymore are both not Jewish as far as I know (McQueen in particular doesn't fit the stereotypes, but that's probably okay by itself), nor was the director, Robert Stevens the American (as opposed to the more famous Robert Stevens the Brit). Even more interesting, the book the movie draws from was written by Harold Robbins, whose parents were Jewish immigrants, but when he was a child he claimed (falsely) to have been raised in a Roman Catholic orphanage. For whatever reason, then, the theme is handled with a kind of detachment that makes it odd, and not nearly as affecting as, say, some of the European films that really attack the issue of "passing" for Goy when the Nazi rampage was on (Louis Malle's "Au revoir les enfants" possibly the best). The Barrymore character never does quite accept of address his heritage.
Now to be clear, the movie lacks a directorial touch to keep it alive and pertinent. It's a decent if uninspired effort, but the exceptions will make it worth a close look for some.
I thought this was a great movie. The different paths that it takes you
down and places it takes you too.
If you like gangsters, crime, love and hate this is the movie to see.
It had a different ending then I was expecting, but that is what make the movie good you had no idea how the movie was going to end.
I would watch the movie again if given the chance.
The film while not exactly a clunker could have been a lot better.
it has that late 50's b/w gangster feel to it like "Studs Lonigan" a couple of years later. A young Steve McQueen cast as a Jewish kid who becomes an attorney does what he can in a supporting role. The person who did have me riveted throughout was John Drew Barrymore who is pretty good in this although his character gets more absurd as the film goes on. Barrymore was a striking looking actor & had talent enough to have a much better career than he actually ended up having.
His lifestyle choices ruined all that, Lita Milan who plays Barymore's girlfriend retired from films all together shortly after & married the Prime minister of the Dominican Republic or something.
When John Drew Barrymore was making films in the 50s he opted for a
more modern style than his father John Barrymore ever tried. The elder
Barrymore's classical style of acting was quite passé and would never
have been accepted. Sad to say that young Barrymore tried and failed to
be a James Dean type rebel. For Never Love A Stranger that's especially
interesting because supporting Barrymore was an actor who would become
the ideal image of cool.
With elements taken from Manhattan Melodrama and Little Caesar, Never Love A Stranger is an old fashioned type film that probably was an anachronism in the 50s let alone now. Young Barrymore plays a slum kid who suffers an identity crisis when he discovers his Jewish roots after having been raised in a Catholic orphanage.
He goes away but comes back one mean and tough punk who becomes kingpin of the rackets, taking over from Robert Bray who gave him his start. And as it turns out his childhood friend, Steve McQueen becomes the special prosecutor with the mission of bringing Barrymore down.
Steve McQueen might have made this film slightly better had he been cast in the lead. But frankly this film was a turgid mess and I doubt that would have helped.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Frankie Kane(John Drew Barrymore)is kicked out of a Catholic orphanage after it is found out that his mother was Jewish. Having some trouble out on his own in the neighborhood, he is befriended by Martin Cabell(Steve McQueen), who teaches him to fight. Martin's sister Julie(Lita Milan)instantly becomes Frankie's love interest. The bitter young man enters a life of crime running numbers for gangster 'Silk' Fennelli(Robert Bray)and as time passes, Martin studies law and becomes a district attorney while Frankie progresses into a mob boss heading his own successful racket. As soon as Frankie reaches a peak, he finds himself in major conflict with his old boss, as well as his old school friend. Screenplay is by Harold Robbins, who adapts his own novel. Robert Stevens directs and other players include: R.G. Armstrong, Felice Orlandi and Salem Ludwig.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
1912: Frankie Kane is born, his mom dies, the put him a catholic orphanage. 1928: Frankie is shining shoes for crime boss Silk plus he befriends Steve McQueen (a "Jew-boy") and Julie. Suddenly the orphanage finds out Frankie is a Jew so the kick him out cause "it's the law"). Frankly, Frankie ain't too happy about being a Jew so he joins Silk running money and one day Silk gets shot up so Frankie splits town in a freight car. 1935: Frankie is back in town, bitter, angry, mad, gray around the temples..and broke..he's a bum. Silk hires him as a chauffeur in his 1942 Cadillac (yes, it's 1935...detail, details). 1938: Frankie's hot now in the organization and telling the boss Silk what to do. 1941: Frankie takes over and sets up his own empire but the Governor, mayor,police commissioner & district attorney declare him a menace to society and appoint a prosecutor to get rid of him...a bright young lawyer (gasp):Steve McQueen his old Jew pal. Lots of back & forth, plots and sub plots and more Jew stuff and gangs and Julie who loves Frankie but is Silks gal, but wants Frankie and he wants her an then the final shoot-out (actually where we came in). The end. Whatever flick. Frankie is John Drew Barrymore, son of the famed John...his daughter is Drew. He's not a good actor. Skipped genes I guess. H
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
For once I am in agreement with the majority of posters. The plot may be accurately described as a cliché's cliché since it is that old chestnut about two childhood friends who take different paths until they wind up diametrically opposite one another. Having established something of a neat twist - a mother dies in childbirth and her child, with the best of intentions, is placed in a Catholic orphanage and raised in the religion; years later an accidental discovery reveals that the mother was really Jewish. Rather than exploring the moral and other dilemmas this raises the film prefers to segue into a run-of-the-mill gangster melodrama. It may be novel to see Steve McQueen bullied to such an extent that he needs to be given lessons in self defense but novels don't necessarily make good movies not even when they are written - as this one was - by Harold Robbins. For trivia buffs only.
I came to own and watch this film because the score was written by musician and inventor Raymond Scott. The acting is very wooden. but fans of Steve McQueen might get a kick out of seeing him in an early role, not to mention the Buddy Holly glasses!
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