Genre: Film Noir Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.
Release Date: May 25th, 1946 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Orson Welles Actors: Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young, Orson Welles, Philip Merivale, Richard Long, Byron Keith
t the Allied War Crimes Commission, Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson), in charge of punishing war criminals, devises a plot to release imprisoned Nazi and concentration camp commander Konrad Meinike (Konstantin Shayne) to follow him to Harper, Connecticut. Wilson suspects that Meinike will attempt to locate the notorious Holocaust mastermind Franz Kindler, who has worked tirelessly to conceal his true identity. Meanwhile in Connecticut, unsuspicious professor Charles Rankin (Orson Welles), surrounded by school children and bride-to-be Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), guards a terrifying secret. And it’s up to Wilson to get to the bottom of it.
“The Stranger” is a taut game of cat and mouse, with the culprit given away right from the start. The audience is made aware of the villain so that the suspense originates from seeing how close Wilson can come to cracking the case or how dangerously involved he can become with the family he investigates. Some clues put him in harm’s way, while others announce his shrewdness; a few are perhaps too convenient. He uses Mary’s brother Noah (Richard Long) to gain a little more knowledge, as well as Kindler’s obsessive hobby of studying antique clocks to uncover heavily guarded truths. But disbelief of such a killer being harbored in an idyllic little town is Wilson’s strongest adversary.
Robinson plays his usual, commanding, bitter, weathered, pipe-smoking, tough guy sleuth, rarely possessing anything but a scowl and always speaking with unsympathetic frankness (a la “Double Indemnity”). Welles lands the greatest lines, full of crafty verbal cover-ups and unconventional solutions to war (such as Carthaginian peace), hinting at a fishy education (and themes that preoccupied Welles’ work outside of film). Young is also exceptional, convincingly wide-eyed, frazzled, and nervous, distraughtly trying to cope with a troubled subconscious. Planting doubt in her mind is the chief strategy for Wilson, as his direct action against the prime suspect is staggeringly cautious. Although it slows the pacing, along with a few other contrivances (including a fussy housekeeper, a momentarily butchered lookout/alibi setup, and nerves getting the better of guilty parties), the eventual climax is still greatly effective (albeit reminiscent of a cross between “Frankenstein” and “Vertigo” and drastically, if not hilariously, overdramatic).
Following the style of classic film noir, “The Stranger” features plenty of shadows, darkened locales, silhouettes, piercing spotlights, characters swallowed by blackness, and equally dark deeds – certainly not excluding murder. Panicky violins and swelling crescendos strengthen the conclusion, which again demonstrates Welles’ infatuation with flawed men and impossible redemption. Although it’s one of the lesser-known films directed by Welles (and interestingly the only actual box office success), it picked up an Academy Award nomination for Victor Trivas’ original story and is routinely regarded by critics as an all-around noteworthy project.
– Mike Massie