When Orson Welles set out to direct The Stranger (1946), he did so under unfavorable conditions. Saddled with a well-deserved reputation for being constitutionally unable to complete films on time or anywhere near the budget, he simply agreed to everything and got down to it.
How much of the result was actually his fault is open to discussion, but the bottom line is that, though this film has a certain Wellesian nightmare quality, it is far removed from his more atmospheric work. It’s definitely not terrible, but there’s a reason Citizen Kane is a household name and this one isn’t.
Let’s start with the good. The tension in this film is constant and constantly ratchets. It is mainly driven by concern for the wellbeing of the young bride and her family as opposed to any sense of mystery as to what is really going on.
And therein lies my major complaint about this movie: there’s no mystery, about whether the protagonist is the bad guy or not. That’s pretty much cleared up in the first five minutes of the movie (contrast that with the Rosebud mystery), so we’re pretty much left with a melodrama of a thriller. That’s fine for some audiences, I suppose, but one expects better of Welles.
Perhaps what got this film its place on the 1001 movies list (apart from the name of its director) is that it was the first hollywood film to use images of the Holocaust at a time when many Americans were either unaware of what had transpired, or simply didn’t believe it. They are strong scenes which, perhaps, have lost a little bit of the effect on modern audiences that they would certainly have had on period viewers–making the job of reviewing it just a tad more difficult.
So, even though it’s certainly not a bad movie, it certainly wasn’t the best thing Welles produced, but as a document of its time… definitely worth watching.
Our unusual note returns today with the fact that one of the actors went on to play Mayor Linseed in the 1960s Batman series. Not sure what that might mean, but it has to mean something, right?
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