Reviews and notes
G-man Edward G. Robinson has the unholy task of wiping the smile off the face of small-town America in this dark thriller, Welles’s contribution to the rural-noir subgenre. ‘There’s nothing to be afraid of in Harper,’ says one deluded denizen of this New England village... Nothing to be afraid of, but at the same time, everything’s just a little bit off. Probably best that newlywed Loretta Young hang those curtains as she begins life with hubby Orson Welles, college professor and escaped Nazi war criminal. Welles tamps down monstrous cynicism with weird charm while the ever-wry Robinson tries to disarm his man. The film introduces the stranger in us all that Nazism exposed; what is at stake in Harper is innocence itself.
– Judy Bloch, Pacific Film Archive.
In this thriller from 1946, Edward G. Robinson plays Mr. Wilson, an operative of the United Nations' War Crimes Commission intent on tracking down a former Nazi war criminal named Franz Kindler. Franz was reported to be responsible for some horrible war crimes committed during the Second World War and has also been accused of helping to plan the Holocaust. To find Kindler, Wilson releases a fellow war criminal named Konrad Meinike (Konstantin Shayne) who he trails to the city of Hartford, Connecticut. Here Meinike is murdered before he can contact Kindler, who Wilson suspects is living quietly in the surrounding area under an assumed identity.
With Meinike out of the picture on a permanent basis, the only clue that Wilson has to work off of is that Kindler has an obsession with antique clocks of all kinds. As he starts putting the pieces of the puzzle together he begins closing in on Professor Charles Rankin (Orson Welles) and his lovely and dutiful wife, Mary (Loretta Young). Wilson is sure that Rankin is actually Kindler, but there's no evidence to support his theories and the townsfolk seem to disagree with him. Wilson, however, is a smart man and he soon comes up with a clever plan to expose Rankin for the monster he believes him to be.
Directed by Orson Welles and based on a script from Anthony Veiller (that featured uncredited rewrites from Welles and John Huston), The Stranger
is a superb exercise in creating cinematic tension. Expertly acted by two literal titans of the era's cinematic elite, the powerhouse combo of Welles and Robinson allows the two actors to play off of each other perfectly. In fact, simply watching Welles play a character so deeply imbedded in his own lies is reason enough to watch this picture. Here he delivers it all with such conviction that we almost fall for it ourselves. Add to that the fact that Robinson is at the top of his game here and this really is one of those movies where the cast make it far better than it would have been had it been performed by a lesser group. The supporting efforts from Konstantin Shayne and the immortally beautiful Loretta Young are also quite good, but not surprisingly Welles and Robinson steal the show.
While it's been well documented that Welles didn't think nearly as highly of this picture as he did of some of his other films, that doesn't change the fact that The Stranger
is still a pretty fantastic film. The story keeps you guessing and the small town setting (which was actually more or less just a well-made up Hollywood back lot) functions as be the perfect location for shifty characters and morally dubious decision making. It does a great job of pulling us into the story and making us think not only about what might happen to the characters but also about the morality of what they're going through here.
The cinematography is exceptional, complimenting Welles' pitch perfect moments of tension with consistently perfect angles and aiding in the drama and the suspense immeasurably. While the film does take a little while to hit its stride and feels a bit slow for the first half hour or so, once it picks up it will have no trouble keeping your attention right through to the finale, which even by modern standards, is a strong and exciting finish.
- Ian Jane, DVD Talk, 15 October 2013.
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