Three Strangers (1946)

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Film and Plot Synopsis

When fate brings three strangers together one night, they pledge before a Chinese idol to share a sweepstakes ticket if it wins. Once the three go their separate ways, we learn that each one of them has major turmoil in their lives. The calculating Crystal attempts to woo her estranged husband back by any means possible. The alcoholic Johnny West is on the lamb from the murder of a police officer, and Jerome K. Arbutny schemes to get back the trust money he embezzled from his naive client before she is any the wiser. As the three stories play out, the looming sweepstakes nears. Who wins? Who loses? Only the Chinese idol knows for sure.

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‘Three Strangers’ Movie Summary

The summary below contains spoilers.
Three Strangers takes place on Chinese New Year in London 1938. Crystal Shackleford (Geraldine Fitzgerald) invites two random men to her flat with the belief that if three strangers make the same wish to an idol of Kwan Yin—the Chinese goddess of fortune and destiny—the goddess will grant that wish.

The men are a gruff solicitor named Jerome K. Arbutny (Sydney Greenstreet) and a charming erudite named Johnny West (Peter Lorre) who is quite the drunk.

Crystal figures that cold hard cash can make all their problems go away, so she convinces them to go in on a sweepstakes ticket for the Grand National horse race with her. If the sweepstakes picks their ticket, the three agree not to sell it until the race is over.

Shackleford wants to use her share to win back her estranged husband. Arbutny wants to use his to join a prestigious Barrister’s Club. Then there’s Johnny. He’s a simple drunk, and would just buy a bar to live in.

We soon find that each person has skeletons in their closet, and more than a few issues they are dealing with.

Crystal’s story

Crystal’s husband, David (Alan Napier), fell in love with Janet Elliott (Marjorie Riordan) before moving to Canada. However, he returns this same night—after Johnny and Arbutny leave. He demands a divorce, but Crystle still loves him, and refuses. She sabotages his chances at a promotion, and then lies to Janet that she’s pregnant with his child. She believes every word Crystal says, and returns home to Canada.

Johnny’s story

Meanwhile, Johnny finds himself on the lam for his participation in a botched robbery that resulted in the death of a police officer. A young woman named Icey Crane (Joan Lorring) adores Johnny, and helps hide him. She also provides the police an alibi for the heist’s ringleader—and actual murderer, Bertram Fallon (Robert Shayne).

Under questioning, Fallon confesses to the robbery, but he blames the actual murder on Johnny and one other man named Gabby (Peter Whitney). Eventually the police catch Johnny, and a court sentences him to death. However, Gabby’s able to find Fallon on his way to prison and then stabs him. As Fallon dies, he gives a deathbed confession clearing Johnny.

Arbutny’s story

Arbutny too finds himself in over his head. He’s been a big stock speculator using the money from the trust fund of Lady Rhea Belladon (Rosalind Ivan). She’s an eccentric widow of a man whom she believes she can talk to from the grave. Unfortunately for Arbutny, the stock plummets, resulting in a margin call.

Now desperate for money, Arbutny proposes marriage to Lady Belladon, but after she consults her dead husband, she turns him down. Additionally, the dead Lord Belladon wants her to have the books checked for accuracy. As Arbutny is about to shoot himself, spots a story in the newspaper that the sweepstakes ticket drew the favorite in the Grand National. Death can wait for now.

We’ve got a winner!

The three strangers excitedly head back to Crystal’s flat. Arbutny, needing money now, wants to sell his share of the ticket immediately before his theft is uncovered. While Johnny’s fine with that, Shackleford isn’t. She insists they stick to their original agreement. This angers Arbutny greatly, and in a fit, he grabs the statue of Kwan Yin, and kills her with it as the radio announces their horse won.

Johnny’s a drunk, but he’s no dummy. When he points out that the three signatures on the winning ticket would provide a credible motive for murder, he recommends they destroy the ticket.

Once they leave the flat, guilt overcomes Arbunty. He panics, and runs into a busy street where his antics stops traffic. As a policeman walks up to him, he confesses to the murder. Johnny quietly returns to the pub, where Icey soon finds him. She’s all a fella needs, so he sets the ticket on fire for a happily ever after.

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