THE STRANGER. RKO Radio Pictures, 1946. Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young, Orson Welles, Philip Merivale, Richard Long. Director: Orson Welles.

   Orson Welles’ The Stranger, the auteur’s most commercially successful production, is a movie about evil. More specifically, it’s a film about the capacity of evil to mask itself in respectable bourgeois garb, to hide inconspicuously in plain sight.

   Although linear in its narrative, The Stranger makes ample use of unique camera movements and stylistic flourishes commonly associated with film noir. And as in films noir, Welles’s choice of non-traditional camera angles and use of shadows and lighting to convey impending menace serves to give the film a semi-nightmarish feeling, one that conveys to the viewer that there is something fundamentally not quite right with post-war American and its norms of surface level respectability.

   As an actor in the film, Welles is on less solid ground. While his portrayal of the Nazi war criminal Franz Kindler, now hiding in Connecticut under the name Charles Rankin, is captivating in its depiction of how seemingly ordinary men can be capable of committing atrocities, it’s also fundamentally flawed. Welles is just a bit too American in his mannerisms throughout as well as in his desperate fear of being caught by the Nazi hunter Wilson (Edward G. Robinson).

   This prevents him from fully disappearing into his character. To be fair, Welles was portraying a Nazi war criminal that was merely pretending to be nothing more than a respectable teacher at a New England boys’ school, one who married the daughter (Loretta Young) of one of the town’s leading public figures.

   There’s much more I could say about The Stranger, but I hesitate to say too much without viewing the film for a second, or even perhaps third, time. There’s a lot going on in the film, much more than I suspect movie audiences saw in 1946 or that I saw upon my first viewing of the Kino Classics DVD version.

   That said, two aspects of the film bear mentioning. The first is the scene in which there is a film within the film. It takes place in a typical upper class Connecticut home in which Mr. Wilson (Robinson) shows both the town judge and his daughter footage from the Nazi concentration camps. This was actual footage and was taken from Death Mills (1945), a documentary film on the Holocaust produced by director Billy Wilder, who himself lost his mother in Auschwitz. This was the first time actual footage of the Holocaust was utilized in Hollywood film.

   The second concerns a quirky aspect of Orson Welles’ character, namely his obsession with clocks. It’s a recurring theme throughout the film and one that Welles, as director, utilizes skillfully to dramatize the fact that as Nazi hunter Wilson closes in on him, time is running out for Franz Kindler and his perverted notion of restoring the Third Reich.