Celluloid Strangers

Written by Eric Wasserman
Review by Mary F. Burns

Four brothers—Mori, Joe, Simon and Benny—move from the mean streets of Dorchester, Massachusetts to the cleaner but no less menacing boulevards and hills of Los Angeles. In the busy post-WWII years of growth and greed, these not-at-all-observant Jewish boys, estranged from each other and themselves, find work in various places: practicing law, running a gas station, writing for the movies—and killing for the Mob. When “red fever” moves from D.C. to the West Coast, the Mob and the Labor Unions mix it up, involving all four brothers in a tangle of loyalties, principles and random chance that author Wasserman presents in a 1940s movie-like format, complete with Quentin Tarantino style violence (I’m talking really gritty here) and “big kiss” love. (I actually skipped several pages when I saw what was coming, but then I’m squeamish when it comes to people getting beaten up within an inch of their lives.)

Despite these episodes, however, Wasserman is a good, strong writer who makes you care about his characters regardless of their iffy life choices. The transcript-like sections of the House Un-American Activities Committee are fascinating, and the capitalism v. socialism war still resonates today with an irony underscored by the fact that back then, those terms actually meant something.