The Stranger / Orson Welles / 1946 /
Active Ingredients: Orson Welles; Lighting; Dark tone
Side Effects: Abrupt ending; Simplicity; Choppy editing
Before The Stranger, Orson Welles had directed two masterpieces, neither of which were embraced by the public. Both were made amidst controversy, artistic squabbles and studio intervention. For his third directorial effort, the former wunderkind – very much against his nature – decided to play nice and create a crowd pleaser, deferring to the studio on all artistic differences. Consequently, The Stranger is Welles’ most facile work, yet it’s not without its pleasures.
The story concerns a former Nazi hiding out in a small Connecticut town, who must evade suspicion from a visiting detective. Spare and economical, the film sees its premise through to its abrupt conclusion with determination, as if to get it over with. Welles, however, is magnetic as always, and manages to infuse the rather banal proceedings with a sinister force. The dark, shadowy lighting and tense scenes of domesticity call to mind The Night of the Hunter. If only Welles had been allowed to make a film as dark as that one.
I just watched this recently myself. I think you are shortchanging it a bit. It may be a fairly straightforward story, but there is nothing wrong with that, especially when it is well executed, as this definitely is. Welles and Robinson are both in fine form, which also helps elevate the material.
There’s definitely nothing wrong with a simple story, and I like the film and the small touches of style Welles was able to inject it with, but I think he was really hamstrung by his unimaginative studio. His acting is superb as always, but I’ll disagree with you a bit about Robinson. He’s often great, but for me he was generally flat and listless here.