Tuesday, April 21, 2015
CANON OF FILM: "THE STRANGER"
THE STRANGER (1946)
Director: Orson Welles
Screenplay: Anthony Veiller, adapted by Victor Trivas and Decla Dunning from the story by Victor Trivas. (Uncredited: John Huston and Orson Welles)
Two Nazi war criminals, one escaped, one a fugitive, a detective, a daughter of a Supreme Court Justice, and a clocktower. It is the universal truth that Orson Welles’s “Citizen Kane,” is the greatest and most important movie ever made, and the greatest that ever will be made. Yet, not every Orson Welles fan/scholar list “Citizen Kane,” as their favorite Welles film. Partly because it’s a little bit cliché, but also there’s frankly many other interesting films in the Welles canon. “Touch of Evil,” possibly the best corrupt cop movie ever is a popular choice. Interesting choices might be the experimentally intriguing “The Lady from Shanghai,” or his adaptation of Kafka’s “The Trial,” both of which practically qualify as surrealism on the level of Bunuel and Dali. The cool choice lately is his last film, “F for Fake”, his last film a pseudo-documentary about a famous art forger that itself challenges nearly every tangible concept of modern art and there’s lots of good reasons for that one being popular now. “The Magnificent Ambersons,” is always gonna be the one we wonder about, and the legendary missing 22minutes that was cut without Welles permission from the final cut.
That said, my favorite might be “The Stranger,” his third feature. A slightly preposterous film noir thriller, it’s probably my favorite because it’s Welles basically making a simple movie. Probably one he didn’t want to make but needed the work. (He himself has called this his least favorite of his movies.) Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson, perfectly cast for this kind of material) is an INTERPOL detective I believe who scours the world for war criminals, currently looking for a Nazi called Franz Kindler, the man who orchestrated and planned the genocide of the Jews. Seeing as this film was made just a year after the war ended, I tend to believe Nazis are just good villains for this time in the country, and also that this film takes place a little later into the future considering how fast that would indicate some of the events to be taking place
Desperate, Wilson orchestrates the so-called escape of the only man who knows what Franz looks like, Konrad Meinike (Konstantin Shayne), in hope that the man will leads him to Franz. He eventually leads him to a small Connecticut suburb called Harper, where a professor (Welles) is about to marry the Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young) whose the daughter of a Supreme Court Justice (Philip Merivale). The early serene scenes of the suburbs reminded me of David Cronenberg great masterpiece “A History of Violence,” also about a criminal hiding as an everyman in a small town. He must’ve been influenced by this film. Once the escaped war criminal, escapes temporarily from Mr. Wilson, he finds Franz and delivers him a message, before Franz kills him, and then struggles to find a place to dispose of the body in the woods behind the prep school he teaches at, all this on his wedding day. The movie is the only film Welles directed that earned a profit in America, it even got an Oscar nomination for the story by Victor Trivas, although it’s widely suspected Welles and John Huston conspired to rework the script. (A fact that, wow, that should be brought up more, that Welles and Huston once collaborated on a film!) This wouldn’t be surprising after Huston’s work in creating the film noir genre with “The Maltese Falcon”. It’s also the first American film to show footage of the horrors of concentration camps, during a scene where Wilson confronts Mary about her newlywed husband’s past. Franz shares only one significant trait with Professor Charles Rankin, they’re obsessed with clocks. Rankin and Mary spend much of their time inside a local old clocktower, which turns on the hour, showing two revolving large figures, a knight and a gargoyle, circling the clock on a conveyer belt. As the truth closes in on Rankin, the clocktower will become the scene of his inevitable demise and it’s one of the most underappreciated sequences of any Welles film.
This is the Orson Welles movie I want to see at one in the morning. It’s a classic noir detective story, filled with shadows and pulp that continues to suck in the viewer as it comes ever so closer to it’s amazing conclusion. This might not be Welles’s greatest technical achievement, although his genius is definitely on every frame of this film but oddly, this might be his most purely entertaining feature.