The Stranger is a 1946 thriller directed by Orson Welles, who also produced it and released it through RKO Pictures. Despite its popularity, it has entered the public domain after its surviving producers failed to renew it in 1973.
Taking place in the 1940s, the United Nations War Crimes Commission sends an agent named Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) to follow former Nazi Konrad Meinike (Konstantin Shayne), whom they released from prison in order to find an escaped Nazi officer. Wilson tracks him to Harper, Connecticut where he is assaulted and knocked out by Konrad. Later, Konrad locates Franz Kindler (Orson Welles), who is living there peacefully as a local college professor Charles Rankin but plans on leading another war later on. He murders Konrad and hides the body. Later that day, he marries a Mary (Loretta Young), the daughter of a Supreme Court justice (Philip Merivale). After recovering, Wilson arrives and becomes suspicious of Rankin when he hears him refer to Karl Marx as a Jew, not a German. This creates a deadly game of cat and mouse as Kindler does everything in his power to hide his guilt.
Originally, genius director John Huston, the man behind The Maltese Falcon, was slated to direct this feature, but he honorably joined the Army and passed duties to Orson Welles. When a movie switches hands, you either get something good or something bad. In this case, Welles did an excellent job bringing the movie together despite massive studio interference from International Films. He masterfully crafts the story and creates a film noir that keeps you interested at every turn. Through research, I discovered that Welles intended this to be a “nightmarish” film, but the studio cut it to make it more investigative.
I only have one qualm with this film. Kindler is not given a whole lot of character development as the antagonist. He is suddenly thrust upon the audience as a highly intelligent, deceptive, and manipulative former Nazi who longs for a return of the Reich in Germany. I did some research and discovered some scenes were cut in post-production that were meant to flesh out his character a bit.
In Orson Welles: A Bio-Bibliography, Bret Wood wrote of this saying, “Character development suffers from the loss of these scenes.”
As for the performances, Robinson is top-notch as Wilson. He is a man who seeks justice for the victims done by the Nazis but is also patient enough to do a thorough investigation. Likewise, Loretta Young as the young wife, deceived by her murderous husband and wants to see the best in him. Her portrayal of this character, which leads to the film’s epic climax with her. Welles also brings a natural, yet powerful role as Kindler. Every step, you feel his puppet strings as he deceives wife and weaves an escape plan as he feels the walls close in around him.
Bottom line, The Stranger is one of the finest and richest classic films that shows the talent of Orson Welles as an actor and director. Its story is masterful and the performances are amazing.
PARENTAL CONCERNS: Violence, Some disturbing images
FAVORITE QUOTE: Tricks. That’s all you know is tricks. I don’t need any tricks! And no matter what happens to me, tricks won’t do YOU any good. You’re finished, Herr Franz Kindler.
Check out the trailer below:
You can watch the whole movie on YouTube for free by clicking here.
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