STRANGERS IN THE CITY(director/writer: Rick Carrier; screenwriter: Elgin Ciampi; cinematographer: Rick Carrier; editor: Stan Russell; music: Bob Prince; cast: Robert Gentile (Filipe Alvarez), Camilo Delgado (Jose Alvarez), Rosita De Triano (Antonia Alvarez), Greta Margos (Elena Alvarez), Robert Corso (Caddy), Bob O’Connell (Dan), John Roeburt (Grocery man), Ruth Kuzab (Jo), Kenny Delmar (Mr. Lou), Dan Williams (rapist), Padjet Fredericks (Buck); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Rick Carrier; Embassy Pictures; 1962)
“Hollywood version of rough life for newly arrived Puerto Ricans to the slums of NYC.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Hollywood version of rough life for newly arrived Puerto Ricans to the slums of NYC. The Anglo cowriter, cinematographer, producer and director, Rick Carrier, in the only film he ever directed, sets it in Spanish Harlem. This rarely seen indie (financed by executive producer Joseph E. Levine) is overwrought as a melodrama but its heart is in the right place and that compensates for a lot of the poor dramatic decisions. It’s an earnest and at times compelling slice of life drama, that tells the Puerto Rican experience in America–territory few Hollywood films cover. To give it an authentic feel, it was shot in and around the vicinity of East 108 St.
The Alvarez family arrives in NYC during the Christmas season to try and make a better life. The proud but vain father Jose (Camilo Delgado), a guitarist who dreams of being a great player, gets fired from his diner job because he refuses to wash dishes and ruin his musical hands. Though the family faces unpaid bills and possible eviction, the old-fashioned, glum and obstinate Jose refuses to allow his caring wife Antonia (Rosita De Triano) to work. Teenager Filipe (Robert Gentile) gets a job as a delivery boy for a nasty white grocer (John Roeburt), and finds it difficult walking the streets as a Spanish gang, led by the dandified narcissist Caddy (Robert Corso), keeps jumping him and his boss holds him responsible for goods stolen and cans him. Filipe’s 18-year-old beautiful sister Elena (Greta Margos) gets raped in the street and then takes a factory job for an unscrupulous shop foreman (Bob O’Connell) in the garment center, where’s she’s recruited as a call girl for Mr. Lou’s (Kenny Delmar) escort service.
The film piles on overwhelming misfortunes and fills the screen with despicable bigots and vile characters, making the characters seem more symbolic than real. The director travels down the path of tragedy, as the naive family comes apart as they can’t deal sensibly with their dire circumstances and some of the city’s most rotten elements. It’s an unpolished work, that in its Greek tragedy conclusion becomes too hysterical and suffers further because of the uneven performances (from a believable Gentile and Corso to a less than convincing Delgado). In the end things seem over-simplified, as it tries to say everything it could about the trials and tribulations of this poor and unprepared for NYC slum life family and in doing so says much less than it could have if it perhaps took a different tact. Nevertheless, it’s worth seeing because there are so few films on the Puerto Rican experience and this one is clearly on the side of the newcomer who has no support in the new country and has to live in a tenement with rats in their dumpy one-room apartment.
REVIEWED ON 5/31/2009 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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