Mon 19 Apr 2010
THE STRANGER. RKO Radio Pictures, 1946. Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young, Orson Welles, Philip Merivale, Richard Long, Billy House. Screenplay: Anthony Veiller. Director: Orson Welles.
The dark nature of this movie of course is what consigns it to the noir category, that plus the moody but still dazzling black-and-white photography, complete with unusual camera angles, especially during the many trips up and down the inside of the bell tower facing the green in a small one-horse town in Connecticut right after the war.
But is it really a noir film? Not really by subject matter, that of a post-World War II manhunt. A former top member of Nazi party in Germany (Orson Welles) who by posing as a history teacher at a local academy, has somehow managed to infiltrate his way into local society so solidly enough that he is about to marry the daughter (Loretta Young) of a US Supreme Court justice who lives in town.
On his trail is one man, a representative of the US government known only as Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson). His problem? He does not know the face of the man he is after, a world-class criminal who managed to keep his identity a secret while the Nazis were in power, a man with vicious ideas who preferred to do his nasty work behind the scenes only.
The noirish concept of an innocent man in over his head through his own weakness and/or the sheer vicissitudes of fate do not apply here. Professor Charles Rankin, as he is known now, is a bad man, and as a killer who senses he is about to be trapped, he needs to be caught. It is only the camera work and Welles’ direction that makes this movie qualify as noir, and then by only the slimmest of margins.
Edward G. Robinson is as earnest as only Edgar G. Robinson could be, and Loretta Young I do not believe could look only lovelier. It is her predicament that is the most heartbreaking. In love with a man who is a monster, she cannot accept it, even as a mountain of facts begins to pile up against him.
As for fierce-looking Mr. Orson Welles himself, he is dark, brooding and sullen throughout the movie. It is difficult to believe that the cheerful Loretta Young could fall in love with such a man, much less go on a honeymoon with him.
It is also hard to believe, that even in simpler times, the credentials and background of the man to whom the daughter of a Supreme Court justice is married would not have been checked more thoroughly earlier on. Before enjoying this movie to the fullest, we in this more cynical age must accept that life (and politics) were easier then.
Otherwise this well-meaning movie, the first to show footage of concentration camps in Germany, or so I am told, is only a well-designed and well-produced relic of the past, a magnificent artifact caught up in amber and preserved for us today, a different time altogether.