Release Date: July 2nd, 1946 (Los Angeles, Salt Lake City)
Directed by: Orson Welles
Written by: Anthony Veiller, Decla Dunning, Victor Trivas, John Huston (uncredited), Orson Welles (uncredited)
Music by: Bronislaw Kaper
Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young, Orson Welles
International Pictures, RKO Radio Pictures, 95 Minutes
“The German sees himself as the innocent victim of world envy and hatred, conspired against, set upon by inferior peoples, inferior nations. He cannot admit to error, much less to wrongdoing, not the German. We chose to ignore Ethiopia and Spain, but we learned from our own casualty list the price of looking the other way. Men of truth everwhere have come to know for whom the bell tolled, but not the German. No! He still follows his warrior gods marching to Wagnerian strains, his eyes still fixed upon the firey sword of Siegfried, and he knows subterranean meeting places that you don’t believe in. The German’s dream world comes alive when he takes his place in shining armor beneath the banners of the Teutonic knights. Mankind is waiting for the Messiah, but for the German, the Messiah is not the Prince of Peace. No, he’s… another Barbarossa… another Hitler.” – Professor Charles Rankin
While not Orson Welles best picture, The Stranger is still better than the vast majority of films throughout history. The thing is, Welles made a dozen or so pictures and they couldn’t all be perfect. The Stranger is not perfect but it is a magnificent work of art. Besides, if you were to rank the auteur’s films, something would have to be towards the bottom, no matter how great all his films are.
Plus, this movie puts Orson Welles together with the great Edward G. Robinson, two of my favorite actors from their era. Joining them is the beautiful and alluring Loretta Young, who seems overshadowed by her male counterparts but is able to hold her own alongside them. She has moments where she truly shines between two of the iconic faces of a film-noir Mount Rushmore.
In a nutshell, the film follows a war crimes investigator (Robinson) who is tracking a high-ranking Nazi fugitive (Welles). This hunt leads the investigator to a small New England town where these two are pitted against one another with Loretta Young’s character caught in the middle, as she is about to marry a prep school teacher, secretly the Nazi.
The film is notable as it was the first to feature documentary footage of the Holocaust. This was done in an effort to create realism and to add weight to the evil nature of the Nazi character. While it was a technique that shocked audiences and caused a stir, the film went on to be highly respected and was nominated for an Academy Award for Victor Trivas’ original story.
Despite being in the lower echelon of Welles’ directorial work, The Stranger was the only film that he made that was an immediate success upon its release. It more than doubled its production costs in six months and tripled them in about a year.
Today, the film is highly regarded by many modern critics and holds a 96 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with a 7.4 on IMDb.
From a visual standpoint, the film utilizes the high contrast style of Welles and the film-noir genre. It has a very lived in feel and a strange majestic beauty with its dark colors and silvery highlights. The final sequence in the clock tower is one of my favorite finales to any film and the demise of the villain is brilliant and incredibly poetic. It was also a pretty ingenious turn, how he meets his doom.
The Stranger is a film that I truly love but it is hard not to love the work of Orson Welles if you are a real fan of motion pictures as art.