The Stranger. 1946
Supposedly Orson Welles wanted Agnes Moorehead to play the part of Wilson the Nazi hunter, but the studio balked at this idea and the role went to Edward G. Robinson. Last night as I watched this very good thriller visions of Agnes doing this part danced in my head. And as good as Robinson is in it, I find the idea of Moorehead doing it is so tantalizing. The film which I’ve seen many times (usually in bad public domain transfers) is generally put down by critics and by Welles himself, as being lesser Welles but I find it visually exciting (Its Orson Welles after all) and a damn good thriller with some serious implications. Made right after the war, the plot concerns Robinson’s search to bring to justice a Nazi war criminal known as Franz Kindler who he traces (with the help of another Nazi who is purposefully allowed to escape from prison so he can lead Robinson to him) to a small bucolic town in Connecticut. It’s a sweet town with a church and a broken clock that is really another a character in the film, and will in the end bring Kindler literally to his fall from grace. Kindler is played by Welles who has assimilated himself into the town’s fabric and life by getting a teaching job in a preppy boy’s school and marrying the good looking daughter of a Supreme Court justice who also lives in the town. Welles uses Christianity to counter the dark forces of Nazism by the use of the church that looms over the town and by having Kindler who is an expert on clocks work on repairing the broken medieval clock in his spare time. Welles and his screenwriter even give Biblical names to three of the main characters, and has the escaped Nazi Konrad Meinike who meets a bad end at the hands of Kindler find spiritual rejuvenation by embracing Jesus Christ. There are some memorable scenes including one in which Welles who has killed Meinike in the woods frantically (watch how Welles moves in this scene) tries to cover up his murder of him while some of his students are running a paper chase and Welles desperately tries to pick up the tossed papers and change the path that the runners are taking so they do not stumble on the freshly murdered body. The cast is good. Besides Welles and Robinson the duped daughter is played by a terrific Loretta Young, and her brother is played by the young and handsome Richard Long who Robinson enlists in his plans to bring Kindler to justice. Also terrific is the little known character actor Billy House who plays the proprietor of the town’s drug store and soda fountain who prefers to sit in his comfy chair hustling people to play chess with him then wait on customers who are told to get what they need themselves including food and drink at the lunch counter. The film is also notable for being the first commercial film to use actual footage of the concentration camps, and Russell Metty’s rich black and white nourish cinematography that has been beautifully restored for this dvd release. One of the ten best films of 1946.