August 31, 2017

Blu-Ray Review: THE STRANGER (1946)

Starring Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young, Orson Welles, Philip Merivale, Richard Long, Konstantin Shayne. Directed by Orson Welles. (1946, 95 min).

It warrants mentioning where I'm at regarding Orson Welles...

While I freely acknowledge Citizen Kane as a technical and artistic cinema milestone, I must confess I've never really enjoyed it. The Stranger, a relative obscurity on his resume, is a lot more fun.

One of the few times he's essentially been a director-for-hire, Welles' casts himself as the heavy in this story of a U.N. appointed Nazi hunter, Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson), in pursuit of fugitive war criminal Franz Kindler (Welles). Wilson follows a fellow Kindler crony, Meinike, to the small town of Harper, Connecticut. Kindler has assumed the identity of local professor named Charles Rankin. He's highly respected and about to marry Mary (Loretta Young), the daughter of the town judge. Meinike's arrival alarms Kindler enough to kill him and hide the corpse in the woods. Wilson suspects Meinike is dead and hopes to convince Mary who her husband really is. She's reluctant, of course, unwilling to believe the man she knows as Charles is a notorious mass murderer.

"Rosebud? Nah, that was just my nickname in college."
The Stranger is a lot more entertaining (and amusing) than it sounds. Though there's some disturbing real-life concentration camp footage (the first Hollywood film to feature any), the fleet-footed story unfolds like a straightforward suspense thriller with a few bits of subtle humor (mostly courtesy of a checker-loving shopkeeper). Robinson is fun as Wilson, while Welles hams it up considerably - even sporting a "dastardly" mustache - and clearly having a good time with his character's unrepentant nastiness.

"One move and I'll shoot your pee-pee off."
It's no secret that Welles' heart really wasn't in this one. But by appearing to go through the motions directing what's essentially a potboiler, he accidentally crafted one of the more exciting films of his career. It may not have garnered him the accolades he was used to, but ironically, The Stranger was a bigger box office hit than his more ambitious projects.

The Stranger is not Welles' greatest film. In my humble opinion, that honor goes to Touch of Evil, which perhaps owes some of its existence to this similarly-noirish little gem. Additionally, this new disc by Olive Films doesn't have as many bonus features as previous Blu-Ray releases, but sports much better picture and sound.

ESSAY: "The Strangers: Murderers Among Us," by film historian Dr. Jennifer Lynde Barker
AUDIO COMMENTARY - By classic film blogger Nora Fiore

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