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Monday, April 28, 2014

THE STRANGER (1946)

Orson Welles was always a bit apologetic about this effective, atmospheric Nazi-on-the-run thriller. (No doubt, its strong commercial showing stung after masterworks like CITIZEN KANE/’41 and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS/’42 underperformed.) It’s certainly his most conventional film, a neurotic film noir with gruesome baroque touches and an overwrought tone, especially from Welles as the Nietzchean Nazi hiding-in-plain-sight and leading-lady Loretta Young as his painfully slow-thinking, perplexed bride. In contrast, Edward G. Robinson cruises calmly as the investigating agent*, with the rest of a superb supporting cast just as naturalistic as Welles & Young are full-blown UFA Expressionist.** (Wildly so whenever Bronislau Kaper’s score chimes in.) Anthony Veillers’ script takes its cue from Hitchcock’s SHADOW OF A DOUBT/’43 (big-time Evil meets Small Town America), but Welles must have done significant rewriting on a characterization that looks forward to his Othello and sounds like THE THIRD MAN’s Harry Lime. (Even noting how folks far below look like ants.) Available for years in subfusc editions, a new KINO restoration finally shows off Russell Metty’s marvelous dark lensing properly, making this a fine companion to their collaboration on Welles’ final Hollywood megging in TOUCH OF EVIL/’58. Alas, by then even Metty couldn’t locate those gaunt facial planes that make the 1946 Welles such a malleable photogenic marvel.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: That’s legendary film producer Sam Spiegel hiding-in-plain-sight (and probably from creditors) under the name S. P. Eagle on this indie pic. An alias that inspired Billy Wilder to wire The Hollywood Reporter upon his marriage that the whole town was ‘S. P. EECHLESS.’

CONTEST: *Agnes Moorehead, who’d been in KANE and AMBERSONS, was Welles’ first choice for the Eddie G. investigator part. What other major role did Welles try (and fail) to get for her? Guess the answer and win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of your choosing.

DOUBLE-BILL: **For a more Wellesian noir, try the following year’s LADY FROM SHANGHAI/’47.

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