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This film has been knocked by many people saying that Orson Welles was
forced to work within the strict confines of the Hollywood system. I have
absolutely no problem with this. Welles is a master craftsman. He made great
films, period. In an interview he said that the studio cut out " a couple of
reels" that take place in South America at the beginning of the story that
he felt was the best part of the movie. As a viewer I feel that the film is
compact and taut. Adding more to it would not help(in my opinion). On the
contrary, I think adding more might make the film sluggish. As it stands the
film remains dark. You feel that evil is present. You are just not sure what
is going to happen next.
The performances in this film are for the most part excellent. Edward G. Robinson is amazing. This could have been a cardboard thin good-guy part. Instead he turns the character of Wilson into a smart, cunning hero. He is self-assured not obsessed. He understands what most people in the town don't: Kindler is a monster who is capable of anything. To catch such a man you have to be several steps ahead of him. Also excellent is Konstantin Shayne as Meinike. You can see the fear and madness in his eyes as he repeats "I am travelling for my health, I am travelling for my health..." before going through customs. Make no mistake, this man is "an obscenity that must be destroyed" to quote Wilson. Just look at his scene with the photographer in South America. He is used to people following his orders. Welles is also very good as Kindler/Rankin. There are moments that you actually feel sympathy for him. His obsession with fixing the town clock is very significant. Here is a man who needs things to be precise and structured. He wants total control of his environment(a good example is how he treats his wife). Welles hints at this man's mania but keeps him human. Even though you want him to be caught, you can't help wondering if he'll get away. Loretta Young is unfortunately just average in this film. She has some good moments (especially in the final scene when she confronts Rankin/Kindler)but her hysterics are just too much. The scene where Wilson is showing her the Nazi atrocities is well played. She keeps a certain composure that works well.
Overall, a very well made thriller with top notch performances and solid direction by one of cinema's masters. I give it 8 clock towers out of 10.
The Stranger was directed by Orson Welles but he did not adapt it to the
screen. Although this is seen as a detraction from the whole by some who
have seen it, I believe that Welles' deft directing and penetrating acting
is what makes this a Welles film for my taste. He was never a facile actor
- but he uses his usual wooden countenance here to the advantage of this
Another thing that fascinates me is the underrated status of this engrossing thriller. The action and suspense builds and builds to a peak of excitement that few movies can reach without lots of special effects and Foley work these days. This movie fascinates at every turn without ever seeming as if we are watching art. But art it was in Welles' direction and gentle handling of the unravelling.
Edward G. Robinson is the subtle but welcome prize we receive from this outing. The undercurrents of the horrors that have just come before this movie was made and its actions can be seen seething within his duty to find hidden Nazis. He is methodical and intelligent, it so difficult to see the difference between Robinson the man and Robinson the actor here. He is such a talent that we often mistake his ease for something else but acting -- and of acting he was a master. Plainly seen here as a gift to all of us.
What I like about this and many other good films is how facts are revealed slowly, layer by layer.
Loretta Young was good as the innocent young girl who believes that marriage is a sacred institution, that life has a course to follow which will not be derailed and finds it hard to accept the truth of the horrors behind her marriage.
It was mildly amusing to see a very young Richard Long as the open-minded young man with whom Robinson's character confides certain facts.
I recommend it to fans of psychological thrillers, mysteries and of course, of Mr. Orson Welles. So sad that the studio heads were such disingenuous towards this utter genius of a man who deserved more earnest accolades in his life.
THE STRANGER is not glittering masterpiece but it's a hell of great story that I do not tire of watching...and seeing each piece of the puzzle fall into place.
What MORE could an intelligent person want from a movie?
The Stranger is a little slow to start. Edward G. Robinson, playing a war
crimes detective named Wilson, lets loose one of the right-hand men of an
important Nazi war criminal named Franz Kindler (Orson Welles) who escaped
prison and managed to erase his identity. He was the mastermind behind the
concentration camps. No photographs exist of him, and only this goon might
know where he is. Wilson tracks the goon to a small town in Connecticut,
where Franz Kindler is posing as a history professor about to marry the
daughter of an important politician. Immediately the goon disappears, but
the professor arouses Wilson's suspicion.
After the setup is over, The Stranger bolts ahead at a breathless pace. All the clues point to the professor, though there is nothing definitive. When his wife, Mary, finds out (played by Loretta Young), she refuses to believe it. Kindler feeds her a nice lie explaining everything, and she's desperate to believe it. He's not sure that he can trust her.
Welles pulls a ton of suspense out of the situation. He's so good at creating points of tension out of both the simplest means, like a group of college boys on a paper chase, a dog who won't stop digging in the leaves, or something much more gothic, like the ancient, broken-down clock in the church tower. Kindler was an expert on clocks (which is one of the biggest clues), and when he revives this old monster, an iron angel with a sword chases away the devil and then rings the bell to the hour. To get to the top of the tower, an extraordinarily tall ladder must be climbed. This leads to as much or more suspense as existed in the cognate scenes in Hitchcock's Vertigo. In fact, I'm sure Hitchcock watched and liked this film. Everyone knows he admired Welles' later Touch of Evil, which he mimicked in his own Psycho, so why not this film?
The acting is quite brilliant as well. We would expect it from Orson Welles, of course. This is actually one of his very best roles. He is amazing at telling believable lies to his wife and friends, but with the dramatic irony in which the audience is in possession, we see the depth and the nervousness and the evil. Edward G. Robinson has a pretty thankless role for a long time, but nearer the end he begins to expand. We cringe when he coldly suggests that Mary is in mortal danger. He is simply great in the climactic scene (which I won't mention except to say that it is one of the best in film history, although some might find it a bit silly). Loretta Young is also great as a naive wife who so desperately wants to be the perfect wife and believe everything her husband says. If this movie were to be remade today, her character would have been developed further psychologically, but what is here is good. She is also great in the climactic sequence.
Welles' films often have thriller elements, but this is his most thrilling. It's also probably his least philosophical, and almost certainly his most conventional. He made the film as a concession. I think he was allowed to make The Lady of Shanghai in return, which is an even better film than this. That is no matter, though. It's a masterpiece anyway. 10/10.
I picked up this movie, mostly because of the cover and the price ($4).
I was happily surprised as to the quality of the movie.
The story takes place after the end of World War II. Edward G. Robinson plays a government official named Mr. Wilson. He is in charge of the Allied War Crime commission. He is looking for an elusive war criminal. His name is Franz Kindler (Orson Welles). He is suppose to be the one who came up with the Nazi plan of mass annihilation. There is no evidence, nor any photographs of Kindler. To find Franz, Wilson releases Kindler's assistant (Konrad). Konrad inadvertently leads Wilson to Harper, Connecticut. Kindler is hiding out at an all boys school as a professor named Charles Rankin. Konrad arrives on Charles' wedding day. He is getting married to the daughter of a liberal Supreme Court justice.
This movie is definitely film noir, in the lighting and the grittiness of the events. It is also quite evident that this movie was directed by Welles himself. If you have seen any one of his movies, you can see how he functions. The story is enjoyable, if not slightly predictable (especially if you have seen other film noir films or have listened to any golden age radio programs). Overall, it is nice to see Edward G. Robinson playing the good guy for a change. I also thought Billy House had a standout performance as Mr. Potter (the owner of the local general store). He provides most of the comedy relief. I highly recommend this movie for fans of Edward G. Robinson, Welles or the film noir genre.
It's quite interesting to see two acting legends like Orson Welles and
Edward G. Robinson working together, and with a cast that includes
those two plus Loretta Young, along with an interesting story, "The
Stranger" is a pretty good thriller.
Welles and Robinson play an interesting cat-and-mouse game in the search for a former Nazi who is hiding out in a peaceful Connecticut town. It's fair to point out, as others have done, that the dialogue at times leaves a little to be desired, but Welles and Robinson have more than enough ability to carry it off anyway.
Loretta Young has a difficult role as the wife of Welles's character. The script does her no favors, either, but she gives a creditable performance as a character who is important to the story. Among the supporting cast, Billy House particularly stands out, getting surprisingly good mileage out of his role as the store-keeper.
Perhaps the most creative aspect of the movie is the effective use of the clock tower, both as a plot device and as an idea, along with the related themes of clocks and time. The tense climax makes good use of all of these elements.
Welles and Robinson were both parts of so many outstanding movies that sometimes their merely good movies can seem to suffer by comparison. As long as you don't try to compare "The Stranger" with some other film, but just watch it for itself, it's a good thriller and an entertaining movie.
Whenever Edward G. Robinson appeared in a picture and Orson Welles directed and starred, you could always count on a great film and this particular film will be enjoyed for many generations because of a great plot and fantastic acting. Edward G. Robinson,(Mr. Wilson),"The Red House",'47 played the role of an investigator, looking for a man who committed horrible crimes during WW II and also a missing friend of his who recently visited this town. Mr. Wilson connects himself with the local town people and plays checkers with a man in town who knows just about everything that goes on with everyone in an New England town. Loretta Young( Mary Longstreet Rankin),"Second Honeymoon",'37, falls in love with Orson Welles,(Dr. Charles Rankin/Franz Kindler),"Butterfly,",'82 and marries the doctor and all kinds of strange things start to happen. Dr. Rankin loves to fix all kinds of clocks and especially a large church steeple clock which has not been working for many years. This story will keep you glued to the silver screen and the ending is very exciting.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Peter Cowie's THE CINEMA OF ORSON WELLES does not say much in favor of
this film. He felt it was a minor work, and in a sense it is. Welles,
having failed in Hollywood terms to produce a blockbuster box office
success with KANE, AMBERSONS, and IT'S ALL TRUE, had demonstrated more
success as a film actor (JANE EYRE in the 1940s) than as a director. He
wanted to show he was able to create a successful film at the box
office, and so he agreed to direct this small thriller. But it lacks
the depth of the major films of his career, and so Cowie is correct to
label it minor.
That does not mean it isn't interesting. Welles was the one of the first directors to tackle the issue of missing Nazi war criminals. The same year as THE STRANGER Hitchcock was filming NOTORIOUS and Charles Vidor did GILDA. All three tackled the plight of fleeing Nazis. NOTORIOUS is about Nazi and Nazi sympathizers led by Claude Rains (as Alex Sebastian) in Rio De Janairo, who are plotting some deviltry involving uranium (Hitch's "MacGuffin"). GILDA's complicated plot deals with George Macready (as Balin Munsen) double crossing German industrialists who trusted him with contracts and papers giving the owner title to their tungsten interests in Argentina. THE STRANGER deals with the search by Wilson, a government agent, for one Franz Kindler, a leading Nazi, who has fled first to Latin America, and then to the United States. It turns out that the devious and clever Kindler has wormed his way into a marriage to the daughter of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Longstreet. In each case, as you see, the fact that the Reich has fallen does not mean the danger is over - the Nazis are planning a come-back.
It has been noted that Welles based Kindler on the character of Martin Bormann, the missing deputy to Hitler and leading adviser in his inner circle. Bormann had back stabbed his way to power at the expense of his predecessor Rudolf Hess. Hess had been showing signs of cracking up by 1941(that Bormann fully took advantage of) and then flew to England in a mad attempt to settle the war there before the invasion of Russia. However, Bormann (unlike Kindler) was not the creator of the "final solution" in the movie - that was Bormann's rival Reinhard Heydrich. Heydrich had been assassinated in 1942, so he was dead and buried years before the war's end and the Nuremburg Trials (where Bormann was found guilty and condemned to death in absentia). I might add another missing Nazi leader is in everyone's mind - Welles has Konrad Meinike (Kindler's assistant) tell people he is on a mission from "the all highest". The deranged Meinike means God, but everyone (including Kindler) thinks he means the seemingly indestructible and missing Adolf Hitler. Details from Soviet archives proving Hitler's suicide were not published until the 1980s.
The film follows the efforts of Wilson in tracking down the missing Kindler. He allows Meinike to get out of prison (he was facing a death sentence) to follow him. Meinike does lead Wilson through Latin America to a town in Connecticut where Kindler is hiding as Charles Rankin, a history teacher in a prep school (where the sons of the nation's elite are groomed for their paths to leadership). Although it is barely commented on in the movie, Kindler/Rankin is in a lovely position to influence the future leaders of the country - to indoctrinate them into neo-Nazis theories. He is laying a groundwork to protect himself, but to continue the Nazi theories. In one scene he mentions the need to destroy the Germans because of their habitual warlike natures. But he retains a dislike of Jews (in the scene mentioned above, he insists Karl Marx is a Jew not a German).
The film has been cut by nearly half an hour. This was the start of the film which dealt with Meinike's "escape" and his journey (followed by Wilson) to and through Latin America. We see the conclusion, when he confronts a photographer who knows where Kindler is hiding. But the missing footage would have been very good to watch - it was a double build up to revealing that the evil Kindler was still alive, but also to lead to the irony of the insane Meinike's seeking out his missing boss to convert him to Christianity, only to be murdered by him. The sequence of the killing of Meinike is a great set piece, and one wishes the missing footage were still available because it would be a fine, ironic conclusion. One can here, as in the slashed up AMBERSONS, see what Welles' concept was meant to be, and what the audience was left with.
The individual portions of the film are quite good, in particular the bits with Billy House as Mr. Potter, and the paper chase sequence. The finale is good too. Kindler is a fanatic about clocks, repairing them whenever he needs recreation. The town's Gothic church has a broken medieval clock with figures. Kindler manages to repair it so the figures move. In the end of the film he is hiding in the tower, and comments on watching the townspeople searching for him - they look like ants to him, as he feels like God (his conversation here sounds very like that of Welles' signature bad guy role, Harry Lime in THE THIRD MAN made four years later - Lime also looks at the "ants" from the ferris wheel in Vienna). When confronted by Mary Longstreet Rankin (Charles bewildered and angry wife played by Loretta Young) and Wilson, Rankin gets killed by the clock figures. It was to be expected, and it is one bang - up conclusion to the film.
Loretta Young intones her provincial view of a small Connecticut town,
and how everything is perfect, nothing terrible can ever happen in
Orson Welles deserves credit for this underrated gem. Richard Long is Noah Longstreet and Richard Merrivale as Young's father, a Supreme Court judge.
Edward G. Robinson is the government official, tracking down former Nazi Franz Kindler. Could he be in this perfect American town?. Welles is undercover as a local professor. He marries Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young) but soon some terrible things start occurring in Harper. Mary's dog, Red is missing. Then the body of a mysterious foreigner is found in the woods.
The clock plays a backdrop; Franz Kindler is an amateur clock collector. There are several intriguing scenes, such as when Welles is discussing Nazis and warfare, in the context of history. This is a brilliant suspense film. 10/10.
A little much in parts, particularly the use of headlight direction that Welles loves to employ, nevertheless, this is a film that rates three stars in the Wellesian collection.
Edward G. Robinson is superb as the laid-back, all-knowing, in-your-face detective and Loretta Young scores as Orson's wife but it's big Billy House who is the real scene-stealer. House plays the man who owns the self-service store in town who likes playing checkers with his customers.
Welles, who looks a little strange--no doubt to match up with the title-provides a commanding performance throughout in a film that reflects the era's revulsion with the Nazi dream.
Start with an inviting, wish-I-were-there small town setting. Then, toss in the most horrendous and heinous kind of evil, creating ripples in the placid pond. Watch as the ripples and their reflections move across the waters. Add the acting talents of three of the truly great performers of the 20th century, Loretta Young, Edward G. Robinson, and Orson Welles, and direction worthy of Hitchcock at his peak. Top it all off with a supporting cast that never misses a beat. That is what you have here. The Stranger may not be the perfect film, but if you like the sense of films like Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt," you'll probably enjoy this. Personally, I have found it more engrossing every time I view it. Even though the mystery is gone, the great performances and pacing really are amazing.
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