Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) works for the United Nations War Crimes Commission, and he’s on the trail of a fugitive. Franz Kindler (Orson Welles), a Nazi war criminal, has managed to erase every clue to his whereabouts and identity, aside from the fact that he’s well-known to be obsessed with clocks.
Wilson hopes that Konrad Meineke (Konstantin Shayne) can lead him to Kindler, and he’s right. As soon as he’s released, Meineke heads to a small town in Connecticut, where Kindler is living under an assumed identity.
Kindler has convinced the town that he’s “Charles Rankin,” a friendly teacher and upstanding citizen. He’s even engaged to none other than Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), daughter of a local Supreme Court justice. But he can’t hide from his past forever, can he?
The Stranger was directed by Orson Welles. The screenplay was written by Anthony Veiller from an original story by Victor Trivas, adapted by Trivas and Decla Dunning.
I’m not quite sure how this film managed to escape me in all of my years of classic film viewing. It stars three of my favorite people: star/director Welles, Loretta Young, and the great Edward G. Robinson! This cast may as well have been selected just for me — and it just goes to show that no matter how much you think you’ve watched, there’s always more to discover.
I was excited by the cast but even more intrigued by the story, which brings trouble to a small, quiet Connecticut town. “Sleepy suburb turned upside down” is one of my favorite tropes, and this town faces very serious trouble: Nazi war criminals and the threat of World War III!
As the director, Welles offers up what many consider to be his most conventional work. I’d have to agree with this assessment; The Stranger is a classic thriller down to the letter.
However, it stands apart within the genre because it is so very well-made. It has a great story, is expertly paced, and features top-notch, steady performances from the whole cast. The high-contrast black-and-white photography is stunning, too.
Another notable element of the film: it features documentary footage of the Holocaust. With this footage and the film’s frank discussion of the issues surrounding the war, Welles offers a very clear condemnation not only of Nazis but of those that hold fascist views and hide in plain sight.
Welles as Franz Kindler is a genuine portrait of evil here. Beyond his nefarious wartime activities, he kills men and animals without a second thought and deceives Mary, showing no remorse for any of his actions. Welles’ performance is captivating to watch, as he lies with ease and convinces the town that he’s nothing more than a simple schoolteacher.
Loretta Young also delivers a wonderfully-executed performance, one that is increasingly anxious as the film progresses. At times she seems unable or unwilling to process the truth. Young does a great job of capturing that inner turmoil.
The Stranger is a new favorite for me, with its top-notch cast, compelling story, and generally high-quality filmmaking. Highly recommended!