Welles himself plays the villainous main character, Franz Kindler, a clockwork-obsessed high-ranking Nazi fugitive who has somehow already gotten himself a job as a prep school teacher (alias Charles Rankin) in one of those irritatingly picturesque New England towns you see in movies. What's more, he's engaged to be married to the daughter of a Supreme Court justice! Their wedding takes place in the first few minutes of the movie, right after he murders his former right-hand man Meinike and buries his body in the woods.
Edward G. Robinson plays the investigator who tails Meinike into town, hoping the little fish will lead him to a bigger fish. Loretta Young plays the wife who gradually discovers that she's married to a monster.
The plot is fairly suspenseful. For someone like me, though, who enjoys noirs for their skewed morality, there's not a lot going on here. The villain is indubitably wicked and portrayed without an ounce of sympathy. He's not even interesting. The investigator is a stolid, righteous man bent on bringing an evildoer to justice. The wife is good and kind, and carefully absolved of psychological collusion. Her deadly coolness at the end does a lot to redeem the movie. For the most part, though, it's unworthy of its director.
Still, The Stranger does have some nice touches. The garrulous checkers-playing drugstore owner (Billy House) steals every scene he's in, even when he shares it with Edward G. Robinson. A couple of scenes move fluidly from the street into the drugstore, and there are some other subtle long takes.
Nietzsche isn't mentioned by name, but I suspect that Welles tried to make his character resemble the famous photo portrait of the philosopher.
Nietzsche has been widely blamed (somewhat unjustly, I believe) for having inspired the Nazis. He adulated Frederick the Great, as the Nazis also did, and Kindler is shown delivering a lecture on Frederick to his prep school students.
The Stranger is in the public domain; you can watch it here.
* * *
I give The Stranger a grade of C for commonplace on the following scale:
- A: awesome noir film, to be owned and watched a zillion times or until you have it memorized
- B: good (bueno) noir film with excellent passages but significant flaws, to be watched on occasion
- C: fairly commonplace noir film, to be watched once or twice
- D: dud of a noir film, to be avoided if possible
Takeaway quote from The Stranger:
*** If you've enjoyed this review, maybe you'd enjoy my reviews of other noir films: Introduction – Phantom Lady – Double Indemnity – Murder, My Sweet – Detour – Scarlet Street – The Blue Dahlia – The Lost Weekend – Gilda and The Lady from Shanghai ***
"Good night, Mary. Pleasant dreams."