The Stranger (1946)
The Stranger is a 1946 American film noir starring Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young, and Orson Welles. Welles’s third completed feature film as director and his first film noir is about a war crimes investigator tracking a high-ranking Nazi fugitive to a Connecticut town. It is the first Hollywood film to present documentary footage of the Holocaust. The original story by Victor Trivas was nominated for an Academy Award.
Mr. Wilson is an agent of the United Nations War Crimes Commission who is hunting for Nazi fugitive Franz Kindler, a war criminal who has erased all evidence which might identify him. He has left no clue to his identity except “a hobby that almost amounts to a mania—clocks.”
Wilson releases Kindler’s former associate Meinike, hoping the man will lead him to Kindler. Wilson follows Meinike to a small town in Connecticut, but loses him before he meets with Kindler. Kindler has assumed a new identity as “Charles Rankin,” and has become a teacher at a local prep school. He is about to marry Mary Longstreet, daughter of Supreme Court Justice Adam Longstreet, and is involved in repairing the town’s 400-year-old Habrecht-style clock mechanism with religious automata that crowns the belfry of a church in the town square.
When Kindler and Meinike do meet, Meinike, who is repentant and has become a Christian, begs Kindler to confess his crimes. Instead, Kindler strangles Meinike, who might expose him. Eventually, Wilson deduces that Rankin is Kindler, but not having witnessed the meeting with Meinike, he has no proof. Only Mary knows that Meinike came to meet her husband. To get her to admit this, Wilson must convince her that her husband is a criminal—before Kindler decides to eliminate the threat to him by killing her. Kindler’s facade begins to unravel when Red, the family dog, discovers Meinike’s body. To further protect his secret, Kindler poisons Red.
Meanwhile, Mary begins to suspect her husband is not being honest with her. She is torn between her desire to learn the truth concerning her husband as a possible monster and the idea of helping him create his new life. Wilson shows her graphic footage of Nazi concentration camps and explains how Kindler developed the idea of genocide. Not until Mary discovers Kindler’s plot to kill her does she finally accept the truth. She dares her husband to kill her. Kindler tries, but he is prevented by the arrival of Wilson and his brother-in-law Noah, and escapes from the house.
Kindler then flees into the church belfry. Shortly afterwards Mary confronts him and a gun appears as a struggle between the two ensues; as the clock bell begins to chime most of the town arrives at the foot of the building. Wilson climbs up to the top of the tower where he too confronts Kindler. They fight and Mary ends up holding the gun and shoots Kindler. He staggers outside to the belfry’s clock face, and is impaled by the sword of one of the moving clock figures. Weakened by the bullets and the impaling, he falls to his death.
Directed by Orson Welles
Screenplay by Anthony Veiller, John Huston, and Orson Welles
Adaptation by Victor Trivas and Decla Dunning
Story by Victor Trivas
Produced by Sam Spiegel
Music by Bronisław Kaper
Restored by moonflix, LLC
Edward G. Robinson as Mr. Wilson
Loretta Young as Mary Longstreet Rankin
Orson Welles as Franz Kindler/Professor Charles Rankin
Philip Merivale as Judge Adam Longstreet
Richard Long as Noah Longstreet
Konstantin Shayne as Konrad Meinike
Byron Keith as Dr. Jeffrey Lawrence
Billy House as Mr. Potter
Martha Wentworth as Sara
Isabel O’Madigan as Mrs. Lawrence
Pietro Sosso as Mr. Peabody
Erskine Sanford as Party Guest
Theodore Gottlieb as Farbright (not in released version)
Original release date:
July 2, 1946