The Stranger (1946)

  • Directed by Orson Welles.
  • Co-written by John Huston (yes, that John Huston) (uncredited).
  • Konrad Meinike (Konstantin Shayne), a Nazi criminal, is released from prison so that he will lead authorities to an even bigger Nazi fish: Franz Kindler, who is now going by the name of Charles Rankin & is a professor at a college in the small town of Harper, Connecticut.
  • Meinike does just what the Allies want (he maybe doesn’t seem like the brightest person, because of this), & leads the primary pursuer, Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) right to Harper, CT.
  • When he gets there, Meinike is like, ‘Franz! It’s the craziest thing! All of the doors were literally left wide open over the course of my escape – I met zero problems, zero roadblocks of any kind! It’s magic!’

And Orson (Franz/Professor Rankin)’s like, ‘…You goddamn fool. All of these people purposefully encouraged & helped your escape so that you’d come here to me – there is zero luck or magic involved. Also thanks for RUINING MY COVER, like an idiot. I’m sooo glad to see you again.’

  • Rankin is all set to marry Mary (Loretta Young), who is the daughter of a Supreme Court Justice (or some such position).

Yeahhh…as far as protections go, that seems like a pretty good one.

  • Lord, I love how Orson Welles movies are shot. The camera angles and the actions & movements the cameras follow are so creative & new. (I know that credit for this lies partially with the Director of Photography and/or the Cinematographer – but it’s also based largely on the direction of the Director.) Anyway, Welles movies are always visually delightful to watch.
  • Unsurprisingly, Rankin kills Meinike within 10 minutes of his arriving in Harper. If Meinike had been smarter, he would have known that was going to happen. Sigh. Meinike. I won’t miss him.
  • At first EGR (Edward G. Robinson, of course) reports to Washington that Rankin is “above suspicion” – based on a dinner conversation they have about post-war Germany. BUT – he changes his mind & decides to stick around Harper for awhile after a throwaway comment Rankin makes about Karl Marx being a Jew, not a German.
  • EGR enlists the help of Mary’s younger brother Noah (Richard Long) to reconstruct Charles’s activities on the day of his & Mary’s wedding (which is is also the day Meinike was murdered) (although they don’t know Meinike was murdered yet, because Charles buried the body in the forest). This seems to unfairly place Noah in a lot of danger…and if Rankin is who EGR thinks he is – EGR should know this to be true.
  • Red, Mary’s dog, won’t leave Meinike’s burial site alone, so Charles poisons him. Sad.

However, Red died of ingesting so much poison, that he couldn’t have moved very far from the spot where he ingested it before dying – which leads EGR to the spot in the forest where Noah found Red…aka: the spot where Meinike is buried.

  • When the town scurries to search for Meinike’s body, Charles decides it’s time for him to flee. First, though, he tells Mary that he killed Red, and killed Meinike (though he fits that into the fake narrative he’s already told her about Meinike being the brother of some girl who loved him back in Switzerland, or something).

The way Welles’s face is lit (the left side in perfect shadow, the right fully visible) while he’s telling her all this is fantastic & appropriately terrifying. I love it.

  • Mary volunteers to help protect Charles, because she is blinded by her love for him & therefore sees no problem with the stories & explanations he’s given her.
  • EGR summons Mary to her dad’s study & enlightens her (& her father, Judge Longstreet, played by Philip Merivale) on Charles’s – aka Franz Kindler’s – role in the running of concentration camps in Nazi Germany.
  • Even after EGR’s very convincing presentation, Mary behaves like love-blind dumbass & denies all the facts of the situation.

Orson the young, mustached professor is cute, sister – but not that cute. Stop being hysterical & admit you accidentally married a Nazi!

  • Mary…you continue to let us all down. What does she do as son as he leaves her meeting with EGR? She runs to Charles & is like, ‘Guess what! They think you’re a Nazi!!! Isn’t that terrible?!’

No, Mary – you’re terrible. Get a brain.

  • Meanwhile, FranzCharles tampers with the church clocktower’s ladder, then calls Mary & tells her to meet him there (in the clocktower). He’s across the street, though, of course – establishing an alibi for when she inevitably falls to her death.
  • Martha Wentworth (playing Sara, Mary’s maid) is great in a scene where she purposely keeps Mary from leaving the house to meet Rankin – knowing that Rankin is even, having been let in on the secret, & knowing that any unaccompanied departures of Mary’s could put her (Mary) in grave danger. Anyhow, Wentworth’s hysterics in the scene are A+.
  • Instead of Mary, EGR & Noah go to the clocktower, & EGR very nearly falls to his death – but since BFF Noah is there to assist him, he does not.
  • Ooooh. The scene when FranzCharles comes home, expecting that Mary is now dead…only she’s there, cheerily greeting him, is superb. FranzCharles essentially loses it & tells Mary he intended to kill her – and the back & forth between Welles & Young is played tremendously. The tone & tension of the scene escalates perfectly.
  • Excuse me?! FranzCharles goes missing after this altercation & no one bothers to check the goddamn clocktower?! That’s the only fucking place that FranzCharles ever goes in this town – and no one thought it was a good idea to start the search there?!
  • This is a town full of imbeciles. Despite knowing that FranzCharles is a murdering war criminal who only this afternoon tried to kill her, Mary goes & visits him in the clocktower.

“I’ve come to kill you,” says Mary, to FranzCharles.

What???

  • The framing of the final showdown in the clocktower, with all of the shadows & close-ups of the key players (EGR, Welles, & Young) is phenomenal.
  • Mary does end up shooting FranzCharles (I partially take back what I said about her being an imbecile – I should have known Loretta Young’s inherent badassery would shine through, in the end)…and THEN –

…FranzCharles is impaled by the sword of the clock figurine!!!

  • Perfectly written death, considering the number of times the movie focused on those figurines, over its course.
  • I really don’t like impalements – but I love this ending. Nice work, filmmaking team! (Like – one, it was written excellently, but two, the way it was shot was phenomenal, also.)
  • The music in this film – done by Bronislau Kaper – was great, throughout.
  • Can I also mention – this clocktower climax reminded me a lot of the climactic scene in VERTIGO (1958)? I mean…right?!
  • Oh! David Edelstein (our TCM intro-ist for the day) informed us that Welles is the one who came up with his “grisly comeuppance.” Bravo. I should have known.
  • Also, Edelstein tells us that several important things were cut from the final film: Franz Kindler’s escape from Germany (a sequence that was filmed in South America, which Welles was very proud of & was supposed to open the movie) – as well as an explanation of FranzCharles’s obsession with clocks (which symbolized his desire for an ordered life that ran like clockwork). Interesting.
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