Movie Review By Heather Clisby
In the 1946 thriller, "The Stranger", Orson Welles directs and stars in a gripping story about a Nazi war criminal living anonymously in a small Connecticut town. This classic co-stars Loretta Young, Richard Long, Martha Wentworth and the indomitable, Edward G. Robinson.
An engaging study in black and white, the film premiered during a time when the Hitler mess was still a fresh wound. I can't imagine how audiences perceived it then but 52 years later, out in the light of day, the story presents a new haunted creepiness.
Welles is Charles Rankin, a handsome, widely respected college history professor engaged to marry a judge's daughter, Mary Longstreet, played by Loretta Young. What the devoted Mary does not know is that Rankin is also Franz Kindler, not just one of your runnathemill Nazis but a true mastermind who relishes his work.
Sniffing at the door is Wilson, an agent with the War Crimes Commission, who comes to town posing as an antique buyer. Edward G. Robinson, a champion of film noir crime guys, plays the part with a stylish, subtle thoughtfulness; like Kindler, he loves his job. Wilson is what lawmen were back when using your brain was still a weapon.
Ironically, Kindler reveals his true identity while feigning disdain for Germans during a dinner party. As Wilson later reported to his office, "Well, who but a Nazi would deny that Karl Marx was a German . . . because he was a Jew?"
Loretta Young plays the naive Pauline figure, innocently tied to the tracks and heavily in denial about the oncoming train. Once she does see the lights, whoa!, what a turnaround! I'm not a big Young fan but the angry vixen looks good on her. In one memorable scene, she calmly challenges her Nazi husband to kill her and Young's steely, even voice gave me the chills. I think it shook him up a bit too.
Orson Welles. Need I say more? This was one of the few post-"Citizen Kane" films that continues to display his brilliant eye and roguish good looks. At his peak, Welles was a dazzling mountain of genius, a true iconoclast.
The idea of a Nazi living quietly next door was recently explored in the film, "Apt Pupil" with chilling success. In "The Stranger" Evil is much closer and threatening to marry our daughters right out from under our noses. The Nazi is America's most notorious bogeyman no fictional villain can surpass because we've met him and . . .well, he looks just like the rest of us.
© 1999 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 1/6/99
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