Thursday, March 17, 2011

Film Yap: The Stranger

A lot of movies from the late 40s and 50s focus on creating distrust in suburban America. Most of them were threats against communism like Invasion of the Body Snatchers or the superb Hitchcock thriller Shadow of a Doubt. One of the more underappreciated entries to the subgenre was the Orson Welles film The Stranger.

Edward G. Robinson (Scarface, Five Star Final) is Mr. Wilson from the War Crimes Commission who is determined to track down the infamous Nazi Franz Kindler. There is no photograph of Kindler, in fact the only person alive who can identify him is the imprisoned Konrad Meinike.

Mr. Wilson released Meinike and follows him to Harper, Connecticut. There they find Kindler (Welles) who has assumed a new life as Charles Rankin. He’s a respected professor at the college and is getting married to Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young). In order to maintain his cover Kindler murders Meinike and that is when everything starts to unravel.

As a director Welles is doing a very good job about playing with the film noir model and experimenting with presentation. The opening is not perfect, but the rapid editing is a strong way to establish discomfort. The use of shadows is a staple of noir, but Welles cleverly uses them to creepily transition between scenes.

Welles shows his brilliant eye for shot composition, but this one doesn’t seem to be as tight as some of his other films. The pacing gets away from him at times and Young’s acting needed to be reigned in. (Also he should probably learn the rules of checkers if there are to be several scenes of it.)

What really has the lasting impacting with this film is how they handle the character of Kindler/Rankin. There is a very impressive ambiguity about how to treat the character who is clearly a villain on paper, but there isn’t a rush to stop him. There is sympathy towards a man who wants to start over, but Welles doesn’t downplay his Nazi past. In fact in one sequence, it’s especially horrifying as Mr. Wilson shows footage from his past.

It’s a fascinating movie that would do well with a new Blu-Ray edition. Unfortunately this new transfer isn’t too impressive. The only bonus feature on the disc that isn’t a trailer is a 1-minute transfer demo to compare/contrast the differences in the versions. There is a clear clean-up of pops and contrast, but it’s nothing compared to other recent conversions.

Film: 4 Yaps

Extras: 1 Yap

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