Stranger, The (1946)

“People can’t help who they fall in love with.”

Synopsis:
When a G-man (Edward G. Robinson) follows a former prisoner (Konstantin Shayne) from Latin America to a small Connecticut town, he finds that the daughter (Loretta Young) of the local judge (Philip Merivale) is about to marry a man (Orson Welles) with a secret past as a heinous Nazi criminal. Will Young’s loyalty to her new husband prevent her from helping Robinson catch his prey?

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary writes that this Orson Welles outing — his third feature after Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) — is “one of several films in the forties in which people suspect that someone in their house isn’t as innocent as s/he appears, joining such pictures as Shadow of a Doubt, Gaslight, The Cat People, The Lodger, Suspicion, and The Spiral Staircase.” He accurately notes that Welles’ “most conventional film isn’t nearly as bad as he thought it was, although it’s not one of his masterpieces”, and that while Welles’ “acting is cockeyed, [he] makes a good, slimy villain, sweating underneath his suit…” He asserts that while “Robinson is a good adversary for Welles”, he wishes “they had a couple more scenes together, sparring with words”, and he argues that “Young’s character is poorly written” and “ridiculously naive” — but I’m actually a fan of both her performance and her character’s emotional trajectory: a dutiful young woman who has just given her body and soul to her new husband would very likely experience the kind of doubt and cognitive dissonance shown here.

Peary concedes that while “the story is still interesting, as is the evocation of smalltown life, far away from the public eye”, the “picture lacks something” — though he “can’t figure out what it is”, noting that “perhaps it’s that the Nazi is not up to any diabolical act at the time Robinson comes to town, so only at the end

[SPOILER]

when Welles decides to murder Young is there any suspense.” However, I disagree: when Welles first meets with Shayne on the campus of the boys’ school where he’s clearly a beloved instructor, he nearly cackles with glee at his ability to cover up his past and craft a nifty new life for himself in a small American town — where, he notes, “I’ll stay… until they day when we strike again.” This is evidence aplenty of both his “diabolical” intentions and beliefs. Meanwhile, “there are novel touches throughout, including the manner in which Welles is done in, and the photography by Russell Metty is atmospheric”. With that said, the screenplay is far from perfect — likely due in part to the fact that 30 minutes of the original film were cut, including 19 minutes from the exposition, and a scene in which Young first meets Welles and walks with him through the town cemetery. However, it’s still worth a one-time look by all film fanatics.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Loretta Young as Mary
  • Billy House in a memorable supporting role
  • Russell Metty’s highly atmospheric cinematography


  • Many creatively filmed shots and sequences

Must See?
Yes, once, as a fine if flawed outing by a master director.

Categories

(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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One Response to “Stranger, The (1946)”

  1. First viewing. A once-must, for its place in cinema history.

    As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ on facebook:

    “Commit a crime – and the earth is made of glass.”

    ‘The Stranger’ (1946) [on Netflix]: ~or, in the case of the war criminal played by Orson Welles… commit many crimes. Welles plays a Nazi mastermind who flees Germany, changes his identity, and ends up a history teacher in Connecticut, married to gullible Loretta Young. But a UN War Crimes Commission officer (Edward G. Robinson) knows how to sniff Welles down.

    This is a film I more or less avoided for years. I did try once to watch it but the print was horrible and I gave up. Since the film went into the Public Domain in 1973, butchered copies were ubiquitous. I had also heard that the original film was largely edited – so it seemed to be a film that had been too tampered with to pay much attention to.

    Netflix is showing the improved 2013 Kino release, so I finally saw a rather good print. ‘The Stranger’ is the only Welles film that made a profit on its release. All told, the draped-in-noir thriller is not bad – but it gains most of its power in the last, rather lively 30 minutes.

    What’s most striking is the Loretta Young character – and she kept reminding me of none other than Brett Kavanaugh’s wife (!): someone fiercely unwilling to believe or accept – even entertain the idea of – her husband’s guilt, because of what it would say about her own judgment and security. (My mind pondered whether or not BK’s wife herself would ever face total revelation.) Bizarrely, Young plays the daughter of a Supreme Court Justice. When Robinson talks to her about the husband’s involvement in the Holocaust (this was the first commercial film to use Holocaust film footage), he seems to be speaking about the nefarious members of our current Senate: “They look like other people – and act like other people, when it’s to their benefit.”

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