The Stranger


1h 35m 1946
The Stranger

Brief Synopsis

A small-town schoolteacher suspects her new husband may be an escaped Nazi war criminal.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Thriller
War
Film Noir
Release Date
Jan 1946
Premiere Information
Los Angeles and Salt Lake, UT opening: 2 Jul 1946; Cincinati, OH and New Orleans, LA opening: 3 Jul
Production Company
International Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

In post-war Germany, Wilson, an American delegate to the Allied War Crimes Commission, demands that Nazi prisoner of war Meinike be allowed to escape so that he may lead the Commission to his former boss, Franz Kindler, the most dangerous and elusive Nazi of all. Watched carefully by Wilson, the freed Meinike travels to Latin America and there contacts a former Nazi cohort about the whereabouts of Kindler. After some resistance, Meinike learns that Kindler, an avowed clock enthusiast, is living under the name Professor Charles Rankin in a small Vermont town called Harper. As soon as Meinike arrives in Harper, which boasts an old, ornate church clock, he deposits his suitcase at the local drugstore and heads for the school at which Rankin is a teacher. At the school, Meinike becomes aware that he is being followed by Wilson and knocks him unconscious in the gymnasium. Fleeing, Meinike goes to Rankin's home, where he meets the unsuspecting Mary Longstreet and learns that she and Rankin are to be married that evening.

After Meinike finally locates Rankin near the school, a nervous, tense Rankin orders him to the woods. There, Rankin informs Meinike that he is marrying Mary, the daughter of a Supreme Court Justice, only because she is the perfect cover for him. When Meinike, who claims to have found God, reveals that he was followed to Harper, Rankin chokes him to death and buries him under a pile of leaves. Wilson, meanwhile, revives and, as Mary and Rankin are being married, heads for the drugstore, where owner Mr. Potter tells him about the mysterious Meinike and his suitcase. Wilson soon narrows his list of suspects to Rankin, who has been fixing the church clock, then poses as an antique dealer and clock enthusiast in order to ingratiate himself to Mary and the professor. While dining with Wilson, Mary, her brother Noah and her father, Rankin speaks disparagingly about Germany and convinces Wilson of his innocence. Later that night, however, Wilson remembers that Rankin had said that Karl Marx was not a "German" because he was a Jew, and decides to continue his investigation. At the same time, Rankin goes to check up on Meinike's body in the woods and is upset when Red, Mary's dog, begins to dig at the site.

The next day, Wilson goes fishing with Noah and, sensing that the teenager dislikes Rankin, asks him to help in his investigation. After Noah agrees to find out everything that Mary did on her wedding day, Wilson and Potter open Meinike's suitcase in the drugstore. Although the suitcase's contents reveal nothing, Wilson uses it as a pretext to question Mary, who comes in with Rankin, about Meinike. When Mary starts to mention that she had met the strange man, Rankin silences her. Later, Rankin "confesses" to Mary that Meinike was blackmailing him about an accidental death in which he was involved, and Mary believes him when he claims that he paid the foreigner off. When Noah discovers Red dead from poison, Wilson deduces that he was killed by Rankin because he was digging at Meinike's grave, and a search is instigated. Realizing that his crime is about to be discovered, Rankin tells Mary that he had to kill the blackmailing Meinike to protect her from scandal. Still confident of her husband's goodness, Mary insists on escaping with him, even as Meinike's body is being uncovered by the townspeople. Wilson, however, is determined that she should know the truth about Rankin and has her father call her to his home. Although Mary insists on Rankin's innocence, Wilson is sure that she understands the situation on a subconscious level and suspects that Rankin will attempt to kill her. As predicted, Mary begins to unravel emotionally, and Rankin plots to murder her by sawing a step in the church tower ladder and ordering her to meet him there alone.

Sara, Mary's devoted housekeeper, however, feigns a heart attack in order to prevent Mary from going, and Mary asks Noah to notify Rankin that she is going to be late. While Rankin plays checkers with Potter, Noah and Wilson go to the church. After Noah is nearly killed by the sabotaged step, Rankin returns home and is startled to see Mary there. Distraught, Rankin reveals his scheme to a horrified Mary, who, sure that she has caused Noah's death, orders her husband to kill her. Rankin, however, cannot do the deed and flees to the church tower. Later that night, Mary finds an armed Rankin and declares her intention to kill him. At that moment, however, Wilson shows up, and a struggle ensues. Mary retrieves Rankin's gun and shoots him in the shoulder, after which Rankin stumbles onto the clock face and is skewered by one of the clock's lance-wielding statues. As a mob of angry townspeople watch, Rankin falls to his death, and Mary is finally freed from his past.

Photo Collections

The Stranger - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from The Stranger (1946), starring Orson Welles, Loretta Young, and Edward G. Robinson. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.

Videos

Movie Clip

Trailer

Hosted Intro

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Thriller
War
Film Noir
Release Date
Jan 1946
Premiere Information
Los Angeles and Salt Lake, UT opening: 2 Jul 1946; Cincinati, OH and New Orleans, LA opening: 3 Jul
Production Company
International Pictures, Inc.
Distribution Company
RKO Radio Pictures, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 35m
Sound
Mono (Western Electric Sound System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Award Nominations

Best Writing, Screenplay

1947

Articles

The Stranger (1946)


Within just five years, Orson Welles had fallen from the position of Boy Genius with complete artistic control over his work to an industry-wide failure, forced to take on The Stranger (1946) to prove he could work within the studio system as well as anyone. His debut film Citizen Kane (1941) established him as an important artist but also managed to turn most of Hollywood against him, mostly out of fear of the powerful publisher William Randolph Hearst, who was the model for Kane, and out of resentment for Welles' unique contract with RKO that allowed him free rein on his pictures. His next film, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), potentially an American masterpiece, was butchered by the studio while Welles was off shooting the ill-fated South American project, It's All True (filmed in 1942 but not released until 1993). The truncated studio version of The Magnificent Ambersons flopped, as did his next project, the political thriller Journey into Fear (1942, credited to Norman Foster). After a four-year hiatus and a lot of bad press, Welles was eager to prove himself capable of bringing in a picture on time and within budget. The result was The Stranger, Welles' most conventional film but one which nevertheless bears some of his distinctive touches.

In the film, Welles plays Franz Kindler, an escaped Nazi war criminal who makes his way to a small Connecticut town, posing as Professor Charles Rankin. Insinuating himself into the good graces of the townspeople, particularly the local judge and his daughter Mary, Kindler/Rankin feels safe. But he is dogged by special federal agent Wilson, and even a respectable marriage to the judge's daughter can't protect him.

Welles originally wanted fellow Mercury theater player Agnes Moorehead (who appeared in both Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons) as the Nazi hunter Wilson. "I thought it would have been more interesting to have [him] tracked down by a spinster lady than by Eddie Robinson, but they wouldn't agree to it," Welles later said. Eager to please and re-establish himself as a desirable director, however, he went along with their suggestion. Ironically, Robinson turned out to be the difficult one, going into a "big sulk," Welles said, because he thought Welles was shooting his bad side. The director had a hard time imagining how someone as bulldog ugly as Robinson could consider himself having a bad side, but discussed the problem with leading lady Loretta Young (whose good side Welles was favoring). Young agreed to allow a switch in the angle of shots to keep Robinson happy. But she had her own issues. In the scene where Mary first encounters her future husband, she is supposed to be on her way to church but decides to go for a walk with Charles instead. A devout Catholic, Young refused to be seen skipping services, so Welles changed the scene to another day of the week when Mary was simply out walking her dog. Such were the "artistic" decisions he was faced with to prove himself cooperative and efficient.

But he accomplished his goal and the picture came in on time and under budget, with Welles submitting himself to the exact opposite deal he had with RKO. Producer Sam Spiegel (then working under the name S.P. Eagle because he thought it sounded more distinguished) had been a great admirer of Citizen Kane and wanted to work with Welles. He approached Welles to play Kindler under the direction of John Huston. But Welles asked Spiegel point blank if he could helm the project, and not wanting to lose him as an actor, the producer agreed. But to lessen the risk, Spiegel hired editor Ernest Nims to provide a tightly pre-edited shooting script and told Welles the plan had to be followed to the letter. The contract also stated that if Welles strayed outside the agreed parameters, he would be fired as director but forced to remain as the star. Welles accepted. But he was not pleased with the final product. He tried to buck Nims on a sequence set in Latin America that would have shown the fleeing Nazi. Welles filmed some of those scenes, receiving a deep wound on his leg where he stepped on a bay coffin in one action set-up. He later said the scar left by the wood slicing into his skin "always reminds me of what was lost from that movie." The critics and the public were not enamored of the picture either, but Welles' uncharacteristic concession to studio demands and the fact that it was his only picture to be truly profitable, paved the way for him to originate a project in his more familiar filmmaking style. His next movie, The Lady from Shanghai (1948), in which he cast his soon-to-be-divorced wife at that time - Rita Hayworth - would be as cinematically daring as The Stranger was conventional.

Although it doesn't come close to Welles' best work, The Stranger is still a taut thriller and much of it looks unmistakably like an Orson Welles film. The concise, suspenseful progression of the plot and the character development are streamlined in the typical studio style, but they're presented in Welles' trademark visual style, marked by moody lighting and unusual camera angles. This is particularly true in the scene where Wilson shows Mary a film of concentration camp atrocities masterminded by her husband. Cinematographer Russell Metty - who shot some scenes uncredited on The Magnificent Ambersons and worked with Welles again on Touch of Evil (1958) - effectively utilized deep-focus shots, a favorite cinematic effect in Welles' movies. There are also little jokes buried in each scene, as when Robinson is knocked cold by a gymnasts' ring and the camera glances past a sign warning "use this apparatus at your own risk." But perhaps the most remarkable thing about The Stranger is that production proceeded without delays, incidents, hassles with studio executives, or the kind of scandals that marked the shooting of It's All True. In that respect, it's the most un-Wellesian of any Orson Welles' movie.

Director: Orson Welles
Producer: Sam Spiegel (S.P. Eagle)
Screenplay: Victor Trivas, Decla Dunning, Anthony Veiller; Orson Welles and John Huston (uncredited)
Cinematography: Russell Metty
Editing: Ernest J. Nims
Art Direction: Albert D'Agostino, Perry Ferguson (production design)
Original Music: Bronislau Kaper
Cast: Edward G. Robinson (Wilson), Loretta Young (Mary Longstreet Rankin), Orson Welles (Charles Rankin/Franz Kindler), Richard Long (Noah Longstreet), Philip Merivale (Judge Longstreet).
BW-96m.

by Rob Nixon
The Stranger (1946)

The Stranger (1946)

Within just five years, Orson Welles had fallen from the position of Boy Genius with complete artistic control over his work to an industry-wide failure, forced to take on The Stranger (1946) to prove he could work within the studio system as well as anyone. His debut film Citizen Kane (1941) established him as an important artist but also managed to turn most of Hollywood against him, mostly out of fear of the powerful publisher William Randolph Hearst, who was the model for Kane, and out of resentment for Welles' unique contract with RKO that allowed him free rein on his pictures. His next film, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), potentially an American masterpiece, was butchered by the studio while Welles was off shooting the ill-fated South American project, It's All True (filmed in 1942 but not released until 1993). The truncated studio version of The Magnificent Ambersons flopped, as did his next project, the political thriller Journey into Fear (1942, credited to Norman Foster). After a four-year hiatus and a lot of bad press, Welles was eager to prove himself capable of bringing in a picture on time and within budget. The result was The Stranger, Welles' most conventional film but one which nevertheless bears some of his distinctive touches. In the film, Welles plays Franz Kindler, an escaped Nazi war criminal who makes his way to a small Connecticut town, posing as Professor Charles Rankin. Insinuating himself into the good graces of the townspeople, particularly the local judge and his daughter Mary, Kindler/Rankin feels safe. But he is dogged by special federal agent Wilson, and even a respectable marriage to the judge's daughter can't protect him. Welles originally wanted fellow Mercury theater player Agnes Moorehead (who appeared in both Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons) as the Nazi hunter Wilson. "I thought it would have been more interesting to have [him] tracked down by a spinster lady than by Eddie Robinson, but they wouldn't agree to it," Welles later said. Eager to please and re-establish himself as a desirable director, however, he went along with their suggestion. Ironically, Robinson turned out to be the difficult one, going into a "big sulk," Welles said, because he thought Welles was shooting his bad side. The director had a hard time imagining how someone as bulldog ugly as Robinson could consider himself having a bad side, but discussed the problem with leading lady Loretta Young (whose good side Welles was favoring). Young agreed to allow a switch in the angle of shots to keep Robinson happy. But she had her own issues. In the scene where Mary first encounters her future husband, she is supposed to be on her way to church but decides to go for a walk with Charles instead. A devout Catholic, Young refused to be seen skipping services, so Welles changed the scene to another day of the week when Mary was simply out walking her dog. Such were the "artistic" decisions he was faced with to prove himself cooperative and efficient. But he accomplished his goal and the picture came in on time and under budget, with Welles submitting himself to the exact opposite deal he had with RKO. Producer Sam Spiegel (then working under the name S.P. Eagle because he thought it sounded more distinguished) had been a great admirer of Citizen Kane and wanted to work with Welles. He approached Welles to play Kindler under the direction of John Huston. But Welles asked Spiegel point blank if he could helm the project, and not wanting to lose him as an actor, the producer agreed. But to lessen the risk, Spiegel hired editor Ernest Nims to provide a tightly pre-edited shooting script and told Welles the plan had to be followed to the letter. The contract also stated that if Welles strayed outside the agreed parameters, he would be fired as director but forced to remain as the star. Welles accepted. But he was not pleased with the final product. He tried to buck Nims on a sequence set in Latin America that would have shown the fleeing Nazi. Welles filmed some of those scenes, receiving a deep wound on his leg where he stepped on a bay coffin in one action set-up. He later said the scar left by the wood slicing into his skin "always reminds me of what was lost from that movie." The critics and the public were not enamored of the picture either, but Welles' uncharacteristic concession to studio demands and the fact that it was his only picture to be truly profitable, paved the way for him to originate a project in his more familiar filmmaking style. His next movie, The Lady from Shanghai (1948), in which he cast his soon-to-be-divorced wife at that time - Rita Hayworth - would be as cinematically daring as The Stranger was conventional. Although it doesn't come close to Welles' best work, The Stranger is still a taut thriller and much of it looks unmistakably like an Orson Welles film. The concise, suspenseful progression of the plot and the character development are streamlined in the typical studio style, but they're presented in Welles' trademark visual style, marked by moody lighting and unusual camera angles. This is particularly true in the scene where Wilson shows Mary a film of concentration camp atrocities masterminded by her husband. Cinematographer Russell Metty - who shot some scenes uncredited on The Magnificent Ambersons and worked with Welles again on Touch of Evil (1958) - effectively utilized deep-focus shots, a favorite cinematic effect in Welles' movies. There are also little jokes buried in each scene, as when Robinson is knocked cold by a gymnasts' ring and the camera glances past a sign warning "use this apparatus at your own risk." But perhaps the most remarkable thing about The Stranger is that production proceeded without delays, incidents, hassles with studio executives, or the kind of scandals that marked the shooting of It's All True. In that respect, it's the most un-Wellesian of any Orson Welles' movie. Director: Orson Welles Producer: Sam Spiegel (S.P. Eagle) Screenplay: Victor Trivas, Decla Dunning, Anthony Veiller; Orson Welles and John Huston (uncredited) Cinematography: Russell Metty Editing: Ernest J. Nims Art Direction: Albert D'Agostino, Perry Ferguson (production design) Original Music: Bronislau Kaper Cast: Edward G. Robinson (Wilson), Loretta Young (Mary Longstreet Rankin), Orson Welles (Charles Rankin/Franz Kindler), Richard Long (Noah Longstreet), Philip Merivale (Judge Longstreet). BW-96m. by Rob Nixon

Quotes

Well, who but a Nazi would deny that Karl Marx was a German... because he was a Jew?
- Wilson
'Course, he's changed some. Being buried in the earth does that.
- Mr. Potter
Who would think to look for the notorious Franz Kindler in the sacred precincts of the Harper School, surrounded by the sons of America's first families? And I'll stay hidden... till the day when we strike again.
- Dr. Charles Rankin/Franz Kindler
Franz! There will be another war?
- Konrad Meinike
Of course.
- Dr. Charles Rankin/Franz Kindler
Hello, father. Has anybody seen my brand- new husband?
- Mary Longstreet
Don't tell me he's deserted you already.
- Judge Longstreet
Mankind is waiting for the Messiah, but for the German, the Messiah is not the Prince of Peace. He's another Barbarossa... another Hitler.
- Dr. Charles Rankin/Franz Kindler

Trivia

A lengthy scene of Meineke trying to find Kindler was filmed but cut by the studio. The footage (between 20-30 minutes) is believed lost as even the original negatives have gone missing. (see alternate versions)

The first film released after WWII that showed footage of the concentration camps.

Notes

The Stranger was the last International Pictures production to be released by RKO. Although Twentieth Century-Fox protested RKO's use of the title The Stranger because of its concurrent release Strangers on the Highway, an MPPA arbitration board found no conflict between the two titles, according to a Hollywood Reporter news item. International borrowed production designer Perry Ferguson from Samuel Goldwyn's company for the film. Hollywood Reporter news items note that filming was done at the Goldwyn Studios and on Universal's back lot. Production news items add Rebel Randall, Lillian Molieri, Johnny Sands, Joseph Granby, Robert Raison, Fred Godoy, Gabriel Peralta, Nancy Evans, Josephine Victor, Ruth Lee, Neal Dodd and Gerald Pierce to the cast, but their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. Although the Hollywood Reporter review in May 1946 lists the running time as 85 minutes, this length is probably an error. No information concerning the The Haig Corp., the company listed as the picture's copyright claimant, has been found. Victor Trivas was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Story. Modern sources add the following information about the film's inception and production: Impressed by Welles's work on Citizen Kane, producer Sam Spiegel (whose onscreen credit reads S. P. Eagle), approached the filmmaker with a script written by Anthony Veiller and uncredited contributor John Huston. Welles, who was interested in doing a political story, accepted the part and offered to direct the film as well. Although Spiegel had originally intended Huston to direct, he agreed to hire Welles as director on condition that he not alter the script once production had begun and pay International out of his own pocket if the film went over budget. In addition, because of Welles's reputation for making long, slow films, the script was to be preedited by cutter Ernest Nims. Anxious to improve his standing in Hollywood, Welles accepted Spiegel's stipulations and, although he wanted Mercury Theater star Agnes Moorehead to play the role of "Wilson," agreed to cast Edward G. Robinson in the part. According to a modern interview, Welles "worked" on the script during "general rewriting" with Veiller and Spiegel. Welles claimed in the interview that he wrote "all the stuff in the drugstore as well as the first two or three reels of the picture, which were almost entirely cut." In addition, Welles took credit for inventing Billy House's checker-playing character. As promised, Welles brought the picture in on time and on budget. The Connecticut town constructed by production designer Perry Ferguson, who had worked with Welles on Citizen Kane, was the highest set used in a film since D. W. Griffith's 1916 epic Intolerance. The film's clock was an actual timepiece that had been in the Los Angeles County Courthouse prior to 1922. After Welles had the clock inserted into the set tower, he insisted that scenes showing the clock in motion be shot realistically, without rear projection or other trick photography. During the editing process, Nims cut a prologue showing "Kindler" in Latin America prior to moving to Vermont. According to a modern interview, Welles vehemently protested the cut, which included a scene in which Kindler steps on a baby's coffin. Modern sources add Irving Pichel to the cast.