ALPHABET MOVIE CLUB: The Stranger
WEEK 20-- "S"
Nominees: The Set-Up, Shane, Splendor in the Grass, Stalag 17, The Stranger
Winner: The Stranger
Background: The Stranger is a 1946 directorial effort from the noted Orson Welles. After a pair of box office flops (The Magnificent Ambersons and It's All True) before World War II, Welles struggled finding directing work and kept himself going on television during the war years. The Stranger ended up being his best box office hit to date and bumped his profile back up around town.
Edward G. Robinson stars as Mr. Wilson, a United Nations War Crimes Commission investigator (Sidenote: I didn't know they hired ethnic movie tough-guy types). He's been on the tedious trail of Franz Kindler, a Nazi war criminal responsible for the genocide of many concentration camps. He has erased his paperwork tracks and may have escaped to the United States. Following Meinike, one of Kindler's former Nazi associates, Mr. Wilson descends upon a small New England town.
Having given Mr. Wilson the slip, Meinike finds Kindler (Welles himself), who has taken the identity of Charles Rankin, a prominent and well-regarded prep school teacher in town, and urges him to repent for his crimes. The determined Rankin, on the eve of getting married to Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), the daughter of a Supreme Court justice, can't and won't repent. He kills Meinike and attempts to hide the body. Upon getting married, Rankin/Kindler feels even more in place to hide from his past. However, how much does Mr. Wilson already know and what can he find out? How much will his wife question the man she married? These questions and more carry the nice suspense that builds to a swift climax in The Stranger.
Reaction: 3 STARS-- When Orson Welles called this his least favorite film of his catalog, I can see why. The Stranger, while built on a clever and timely post-Nazi regime premise for 1946, boils down to an Edward G. Robinson hero piece and a somewhat strained role for Orson Welles directing himself. It's not that either one of those angles make for a bad movie. It just doesn't make for a great one. Both actors are a treat to watch. While those two carry the picture for sure and make for equal rivals for intrigue, the movie didn't do much for me personally.
Finally, I have to give kudos to Welles for being the first mainstream movie to show actual Nazi concentration camp footage. It was used in a very artistic matter and worked to raise the tension surrounding Welles's character. Coupled with Polish composer Bronislaw Kaper's sumptuous score, the suspense in The Stranger is very good from Victor Trivas's Oscar-nominated screenplay. The movie is efficient with giving the audience a good post-war black-and-white slow boiler. I do agree that it's just so-so Welles, but even so-so Welles is better than a lot of other movie attempts.
LESSON #1: FIND OUT WHAT KIND OF MAN OR WOMAN YOU ARE MARRYING-- We know Mary feels terrible and betrayed by the end of The Stranger, but who she chose to marry was her own fault. Do you homework, girl! On the outside, Charles appears educated, passionate, and mustached, but everyone who gets married needs to interview and learn beyond looks. Yes, no one's perfect, you marry the good and the bad with someone, but at least do your homework to not marry a war criminal responsible for the attempted eradication of an entire race.
LESSON #2: MURDER CAN BE A CHAIN-- This was a sly small line from Welles's character that I grabbed onto. It spoke to both his past (the Holocaust) and present (Meinike's murder and rising stakes after). I truly believe that, once you make one catastrophic choice or action, like murder or things of that nature, it becomes infinitely easier to perform that act or mistake again. On a twisted level, it takes more murder to cover up murder.
LESSON #3: NOBODY F - - KS WITH EDDIE G.!-- You don't mess with Edward G. Robinson! Enough said!
LESSON #4: THE INABILITY TO DEFEAT FASCISM-- From the great dinner scene of challenging ideals to the multiple levels of religious and social symbolism, this post-WWII film dives into the foreboding and foreshadowing idea that, even after the war and the destruction of the Nazi party, fascism will still exist in this world. This is a big picture lesson that goes beyond the borders of this movie, and it's a buffet of food for thought.