A Movie A Day: THE STRANGER (1946)
Who but a Nazi would deny that Karl Marx was a German because he was a Jew?
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we follow Orson Welles over from yesterday’s trainwreck CASINO ROYALE to today’s 1946 thriller THE STRANGER. What a giant step up.
Now, I’m in the middle of packing for my trip back home, another 20 hours of travel that begins early tomorrow morning, so I might cut this a tad shorter than usual, but I don’t want to half-ass a look at this film.
It’s quite a spectacular movie, made even more fascinating by the timing of its release. This film was released a year after WW2 came to an end and it takes a hard look at the atrocities of the Nazi-run concentration camps, including what I believe is the first actual concentration camp footage used in a feature film.
The film is set in a small, East Coast town as we follow a Nazi-hunter (Edward G. Robinson’s Mr. Wilson) who is himself following a man known to be a high ranking Nazi official. He was let go in the hopes that he would lead Robinson to the biggest fish of them all, Franz Kindler, the mastermind behind the holocaust. This man was a genius, having never been documented in any substantial way. When he knew the Reich was falling, he destroyed anything that could tie him to the Nazi party and escaped into the ether, seemingly.
What I love about the film is that the ambiguity goes right out the window. I complained about that a bit when AMAD covered Hitchcock’s SHADOW OF A DOUBT, which was a terrific film, so I might sound like a hypocritical jackass since I really wanted there to be more mystery surrounding Joseph Cotton’s character. But I will say that Hitchcock’s film felt like it tipped the hand early and didn’t get the maximum value out of the ambiguity while Welles’ film was not built around the audience knowing whether or not Welles was indeed Kindler.
And yes, he is. We know it in the first 10 minutes of the movie. The real mystery of his character is watching the brilliant, if fucked up, mind at work trying to keep his cover from his new bride, the rest of the townspeople and the snooping Robinson. How is he going to do it? To what lengths will he go? It obvious in the first reel that he is willing to kill and can do it coldly, mechanically and without any remorse.
Legend has it that Welles didn’t care for this film, feeling like the studio took it out of his hands, but I would stress that Welles is fucking great in it, whether he thought so or not. I love that he plays such a unapologetically evil cocksucker. This dude really has no conscience and is a step beyond being a robot. Human emotion doesn’t really enter into the equation for him unless he needs to manipulate it to cover his crimes.
His new bride is played by Loretta Young, who has stars in her eyes and can not see what her husband is even though by halfway through it becomes completely obvious. She knows it, but refuses to let it sink in and soon she becomes the key to Welles’ cover and also Robinson’s success in proving Welles’ identity.
The cat and mouse game between Welles and Robinson is really the meat and potatoes of the film and what I think makes it iconic. It’s not overplayed, but there is a fantastic dinner scene which is what is referenced in the subhead quote. Robinson tries to bait Welles and Welles is too smart for it, but when Young’s brother brings up communism and Marx, Welles can’t help himself from commenting on it and that compulsion is the beginning of the end for him.
In fact the film is about compulsion in many ways. Kindler’s a brilliant mind, but can’t help himself when it comes to his passion (clock-building), which is what originally raises a flag about his true identity. I’m sure Kindler knows that it’s a risk, but he can’t help himself.
There’s also Robinson’s character’s compulsion, a more pure and steady desire to hunt down the man who initiated the holocaust. Hitler is gone, so this is the only bit of closure he believes remains. Robinson’s a good foil for Welles. There are few who could sit across from the man and be buyably not intimidated by Welles and Robinson is one of those people.
The flick is in the public domain, I believe, which is why I have it on a cheapo double feature release with Welles’ King Lear, but the above linked version seems to be a quality transfer. I could tell in the washed out mediocre transfer it was a beautifully shot film and I can only imagine how good it looks in a real, quality version.
Keep an eye on the shadows and architecture of the finale, which takes place in the town center clock tower that Welles is building throughout. His passion, his one human weakness, is what ultimately destroys him, both figuratively and literally and it’s a fascinatingly designed sequence.
Final Thoughts: I can’t recommend this one enough. It’s not the kind of film that really knocks you on your ass when you see it, but it’s such a class-act that you’ll be hard pressed not to walk away greatly impressed. It’s a fascinating story told in a fascinating way, with two great icons of cinema sparring for our viewing pleasure.
Here’s what we have lined up for the next week:
Saturday, December 20th: BROTHER ORCHID (1940)
Sunday, December 21st: THE PETRIFIED FOREST (1936)
Monday, December 22nd: MOONTIDE (1942)
Tuesday, December 23rd: NOTORIOUS (1946)
Wednesday, December 24th: THE INN OF THE SIXTH HAPPINESS (1958)
Thursday, December 25th: THE HIGH COMMISSIONER (1968)
Friday, December 26th: THE SILENT PARTNER (1979)
As I said at the front of the article, my travel back to the States begins early tomorrow morning, so it's quite possible I'll be late with tomorrow's column, but I'll do my best to get it posted in a timely fashion. The next one up is following Edward G. Robinson to the gangster flick BROTHER ORCHID! See you folks for that soon!
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express
November 13th: Daniel
November 14th: El Dorado
November 15th: The Gambler
November 16th: Once Upon A Time In America
November 17th: Salvador
November 18th: Best Seller
November 19th: The Holcroft Covenant
November 20th: Birdman of Alcatraz
November 21st: The Train
November 22nd: Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
November 23rd: Mystery Street
November 24th: Border Incident
November 25th: The Tin Star
November 26th: On The Beach
November 27th: Twelve O’Clock High
November 28th: Gentleman’s Agreement
November 29th: Panic In The Streets
November 30th: The Hot Rock
December 1st: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
December 2nd: The Day of the Dolphin
December 3rd: Carnal Knowledge
December 4th: The Cincinnati Kid
December 5th: Pocketful of Miracles
December 6th: Mikey & Nicky
December 7th: Two-Minute Warning
December 8th: The Sentinel
December 9th: How To Steal A Million
December 10th: What’s New Pussycat?
December 11th: Being There
December 17th: The Party
December 18th: Casino Royale
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Dec. 20, 2008, 4:48 a.m. CST
I love THE STRANGER, and as blasphemous as it may sound I always imagined a remake of this with Tom Hanks in the Orson Welles role.
Dec. 20, 2008, 5:05 a.m. CST
by mr teaspoon
Is that what I was meant to take away from that?
Dec. 20, 2008, 5:29 a.m. CST
I also like this Welles movie more than most of his "superior" work. Though the posters all look good you should see some more stills from the movie. It has - at least to me- a very memorable New England look. And it was produced by S.P. Eagle which is a.k.a for Sam Spiegel the man behind "Lawrence of Arabia" and "River Kwai". Oh, and if you check out Orson, try to find his short film "Return to Glennascaul" it's my fav. short movie, directed in 1951 by a guy called Hilton Edwards.
Dec. 20, 2008, 6:39 a.m. CST
I thought the problem he had with it wasn't the studio taking over but the fact he played the studios game to prove he could bring it in on time, under budget with no problems - and then resented the fact it was possibly his most 'successful' film in their commercial terms. They didn't take it over. Parts of it are beautifully shot - you have to mention Russell Metty whose work in the trailing at the start of the film clearly foreshadows the stuff he did on Touch of Evil. I also love the moral ambiuguity - Robinson quite clearly has little problem using others and putting them in danger for what he considers the greater good. The end is really quite gruesome too - but you can see how much of his love of German expressionism he tried to shoehorn into the film. Funniest bit though has to be his 'to do' list for killing someone! Niiice big close up.
Dec. 20, 2008, 7:02 a.m. CST
by Drunken Rage
But still better than a lot. Robinson is very badly cast and Young is truly awful. Great lighting and use of shadows which works best on a large (theatre) screen. Welles is, of course, hammy but very good.
Dec. 20, 2008, 7:14 a.m. CST
Wow. That's dedication!
Dec. 20, 2008, 7:22 a.m. CST
And it's funny that you mentioned Shadow of a Doubt, because that dinner table scene where Welles' spiels out his anti-German rant (which included the quote you used in the title) really reminded me of Cotten's similar shocking over-the-table talk from a few years before.<p> It looks like it occasionally gets a bad rap, but to me, this is quintessential noir! Right up there with Hitchcock's Foreign Correspondent and Apt Pupil as far as escaped Nazi movies go. It's probably the best of the three.<p> I just love the scenes the characters have over a game of checkers in the drug store. Some of the acting's a little on the hokey side, but Robinson really was an infinitely better protagonist than a gangster. In real life, he was quite a debonair kinda sort, whose main hobby was collecting art. While Welles puts in a real insidious performance here. I'm not sure I bought that he'd only been in America for a couple of years, but there was SOMETHING pulsing below the surface there. And that scene of him getting impaled on the clocktower was utterly classic; I bet Hitch wished he came up with it himself.
Dec. 20, 2008, 7:54 a.m. CST
and this is the sort of film that justifies the AMAD format. I caught it for the first time a few months ago on Turner Classic, they had a very good print/transfer, but they always do. Welles's line about Marx and the batshit look in his eyes when it pops out of his mouth is golden.
Dec. 20, 2008, 7:54 a.m. CST
Dec. 20, 2008, 8:18 a.m. CST
I caught this movie on late night when I was a kid. Even though it wasn't remotely what I was interested in, it's always stuck with me.
Dec. 20, 2008, 8:19 a.m. CST
For whatever it is worth....I have been coming to this site for awhile now and I thought now was the time to say.."I love this site!". AMAD is a fine example of why I love it. It just doesn't get any better. This is where people with passion for films can gather and share the joy. The mix of people who comment on AICN is fantastic. It isn't perfect, but that is what makes it perfect. The messy, passionate, informed, and uninformed discussions just continue to roll along. All of the contributors to the site bring a unique perspective with diverse writing styles. I come to this site every day, not to get any scoops..(although that is fun)...but to get caught up in the fun of it all. Thanks for this column and thank to everyone on this site. There...I said it.
Dec. 20, 2008, 9:51 a.m. CST
by alice 13
and wells creeped the hell out of me. that tower scene and its conclusion was imprinted in my brain.
Dec. 20, 2008, 9:52 a.m. CST
by Leafar the Lost
Since Kevin Bacon has been in 33% of every movie ever made, it should be quite easy to link him to Orson Welles in three moves. Shall I begin?
Dec. 20, 2008, 10:05 a.m. CST
Dec. 20, 2008, 10:10 a.m. CST
Always thought "Stranger" was one the best imitation-Hitchcock movies...Like "Shadow Of A Doubt" it's the story of a peaceful, gentle, all-American small town invaded by a heartless, soul-less psychopath. Compare the dinner-table scenes in both films...where Welles and Cotton briefly take off their 'fake human' masks and air out their darkest thoughts. (Their endings diverge though..Welles' climx is closer in spirit and execution to the spectacular "Strangers On A Train" finale whereas Hitchock's is more like an intimate death-dance between Cotton and Teresa Wright.) Also a little different is the depiction of the two towns ...Hitchcock's West Coast Santa Rosa with its gallery of benign eccentrics....as opposed to Welle's New England hamlet personified by Billy House as the jovial but hard-nosed crackerbarrel General Store manager. (His best line..."I don't get that..." when Robinson declares it VE day all over again) Anyhoo....just my way of saying "The Stranger" is one of my top ten all time favorites and not to be missed by anyone who loves movies....
Dec. 20, 2008, 10:44 a.m. CST
Have you seen that yet?
Dec. 20, 2008, 10:46 a.m. CST
Orson Welles was in Start the Revolution Without Me with Donald Sutherland<p>Donald Sutherland was in Animal House with Kevin Bacon.
Dec. 20, 2008, 10:55 a.m. CST
Orson Welles acted in "Catch-22" with character actor Bruce Kirby (father of Bruno) who also acted in "The Big Picture" starring Kevin Bacon!
Dec. 20, 2008, 10:56 a.m. CST
I was going to go with Start the Revolution too, but I figured Orson was only narrator...
Dec. 20, 2008, 12:09 p.m. CST
Orson Welles in MUPPET MOVIE, Steve Martin in MUPPET MOVIE, Steve Martin in PLANES TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES, Kevin Bacon in PLANES TRAINS & AUTOMOBILES. And I didn't even imdb it.
Dec. 20, 2008, 1:17 p.m. CST
Yeah, yeah, I know -- the "You've never seen.....?" question is probably verboten at AMAD, but NOTORIOUS is a pretty darned towering maserpiece to have missed. You're in for a real treat. It's easily one of Hitchcock's best five movies, and some could make the argument that it's his best, period. (I'd probably have to go with REAR WINDOW or NORTH BY NORTHWEST, or maybe PSYCHO or... etc. etc.).
Dec. 20, 2008, 1:22 p.m. CST
by Lazarus Long
This is definitely Orson's most minor work (compare it to the layered genius in another "B" thriller The Lady From Shanghai), but it's a very pleasurable film to watch. As for the notion that the film wasn't taken out of Orson's hands and chopped up, that's total bullshit. It was cut as heavily as every other film after Kane that he did with the studios. If I'm not mistaken, in Bogdanovich's book This Is Orson Welles, he talks about how there was much more material about the eccentricities of the small town (in the opinion of many, the general store/chess playing scenes are the best in the film) that were cut out, as well as a section in Latin America. Up to 30 minutes may have been taken out. Bottom line is that this could have been an even better film had the Powers That Be not interfered so harshly.
Dec. 20, 2008, 3:28 p.m. CST
make today's "stars" look like stinky-winky ass. And you can quote me on that.
Dec. 20, 2008, 3:47 p.m. CST
A nice warm-up for TOUCH OF EVIL (Welles' civility is a facade for corruptive influences; saddled with a non-extravagant budget, Welles works wonders). But even Welles can't steal a scene from Edward G. Robinson!
Dec. 20, 2008, 4:17 p.m. CST
Discovered this on Netflix about a year back, what a pleasant surprise! Not quite as good as The Lady From Shanghai, but a nice little post war thriller.
Dec. 20, 2008, 5:42 p.m. CST
Thanks for including this movie. I saw it when I was in Jr. High and really liked it. I saw it not too long ago and I thought it really held up. I love the scene with Loretta Young's pearls. 'Notorious' is one of my favorite movies too. Can't wait to hear the AMAD input on that great film.
Dec. 20, 2008, 9:24 p.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
seen him act in Citizen Kane, which I find to be an overated movie. The Liev Shrieber movie about the making of Kane was better in my humble opinion.
Dec. 21, 2008, 1:17 a.m. CST
You have profaned God and his fat, visionary offspring (i.e. Mr. Welles). Furthermore, I have it on good authority that your favorite movie ("of all time") is ABBOTT AND COSTELLO IN THE FOREIGN LEGION. So there.
Dec. 21, 2008, 1:34 a.m. CST
I'm not saying this to be a Devil's Advocate or total contrarian, but I agree with him (probably for different reasons).<p> If this column proves anything, it's that all these "TOP 100 MOVIES OF ALL TIME" lists do is preclude the need to search out for lost gems. And there are hundreds and hundreds of movies that, for whatever reason, have been left behind by time. To my tastes, some of these match up to the classics like Kane in every area. Kane was abso-fucking-lutely revolutionary in terms of filmmaking; it helped bring back the magic of CINEMA that had started to get a little run-down by the studios' workaday demands and the advent of sound (if sound had come along 10 years later, I'm betting that filmmaking would be a completely different beast right now). But still, I personally think there's a little spark missing there. I watch Kane and I don't get that feeling that I'm a different person afterwards than I was before viewing, like I'll get with some movies. That's completely subjective of course. But I can't really call it the "greatest movie of all time" like the circle-jerk film critics have. That doesn't mean a whole lot to me. I find Touch of Evil evokes more of a rise out of me than Kane.
Dec. 21, 2008, 2:43 a.m. CST
_Brother Orchid_ will be a serious step down from this movie. Waaaay down.
Dec. 21, 2008, 3:03 a.m. CST
It's when you sit on your hand until it becomes numb from blood loss and then...you know. Since your hand is numb it feels like someone else is...you know. For further information please consult Scott Caan's character from Gone In Sixty Seconds (Extended Edition).
Dec. 21, 2008, 7:11 a.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
I don't hate Citizen Kane. I liked it well enough. I just didn't find it to be one of the greatest movie experiences of all time. I give Welles credit for being the actor and director at the young age of 24 I believe it was. It's a good movie, but does not reach god-like greatness.
Dec. 21, 2008, 7:13 a.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
That was it. I guess I found it more enjoyable because I think Liev Schrieber is a great actor. Malkovitch also, who was in it, and the details about the background, the infighting. I guess I enjoyed it more because I found myself more intrigued.
Dec. 21, 2008, 7:16 a.m. CST
by Grammaton Cleric Binks
Now that was a great movie about a great book. They don't make them like that anymore. They can't, it has a white person using the word nigger. Spike Lee says he owns the word.
Dec. 21, 2008, 7:34 a.m. CST
An Orthodox Jew!!!
Dec. 22, 2008, 1:50 p.m. CST
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