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THE STRANGER

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    Horace Cordier
    Senior Member

  • Stranger, The



    Released by: Kino Lorber
    Released on: October 15, 2013.
    Director: Orson Welles
    Cast: Edward G. Robinson, Orson Welles, Loretta Young
    Year: 1946
    Purchase From Amazon

    The Movie:

    Few classic films have suffered at the hands of the PD quagmire quite as badly as Orson Welles THE STRANGER. Made less than 2 years after the end of World War II, THE STRANGER was Welles' attempt to show the Hollywood system that he could deliver a bankable mainstream thriller after the box office disappointments of CITIZEN KANE and THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (hard as it is to believe considering their reputations today both films did not do well financially on their initial release). Somehow this brilliant film fell into the public domain pit and suffered through countless shabby releases - often shoehorned into badly compressed multi-film cheapjack sets.

    Welles plays Charles Rankin who is really fugitive German nazi war criminal Franz Kindler. Kindler was a serious player in Adolph Hitler's third reich with a particular focus on "the final solution." He's come to a small Midwestern town to hide out and lay low while awaiting the day when Nazi sleeper factions will rise again. Kindler's actual "plan" is a bit nebulous unlike the machinations in something more obvious like the much later BOYS FROM BRAZIL, but it doesn't really matter. Watching Rankin/Kindler insinuate himself into respectable small town life is creepily fascinating. His perfect American accent and cultured manners make him attractive to the lovely Mary (Loretta Young) who just happens to be the daughter of the town's prominent judge. Rankin is also employed as a professor at the local boy's school and all seems safe until a freed former Nazi compatriot shows up in town looking for him on his wedding day. The stoolie, a man named Meinike (Konstantin Shayne) - is being used by the US government as bait to try to lure out the elusive and highly wanted war criminal.

    Things come to a head when the bumbling Meinike is trailed by the far more competent and mysterious Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson). We are never told exactly what position Wilson has but it's clear he's somehow involved with the US government and more importantly on the trail of Rankin. This is Robinson in his best and most impressively biting G-man mode.

    THE STRANGER isn't all that complicated on a structural level. It's a story about an evil man in hiding being pursued by the forces of justice. Our interest is in seeing him taken down of course, but the devil (or entertainment) is in the details. And while Welles may tamp down some of his directorial flourishes here compared to the innovations of something like KANE, the film has plenty to offer visually. Use of light and shadow is often breathtaking and the final showdown in the town's clock tower is a Welles career highlight. THE STRANGER is also made of unusually stern stuff for a 40's film. At one point Wilson screens a holocaust newsreel for Rankin's wife. While not explicit like something like NIGHT AND FOG it is still deeply unsettling. THE STRANGER also doesn't shy away from the Jewish victims of Kindler's crimes. His revealing speech at a dinner party where he speaks of "inferior races" is a key moment. Welles clearly wasn't fazed by the common anti-semitism of the era the film was made in. It's also an interesting study in the psychological domination of a loving but naive wife by a controlling husband. As Wilson increasingly puts the mental screws to Rankin/Kindler to try to get him to slip up and crack his facade, the Nazi turns to more and more head games to control his now deeply suspicious spouse. Welles plays the hair-trigger emotionalism beautifully. Kindler is never really sympathetic but he's also never a jackbooted caricature hiding in a professor's tweed jacket.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Abused for decades in PD issues with crappy A/V, THE STRANGER has even had a previous Blu-ray release. That disc was issued by Film Chest and while it was passable it was slathered in DNR that stripped the film off all natural grain and severely compromised natural detail. Kino have gone the polar opposite tack here with minimal to no frame cleanup (so dirt and scratches make occasional appearances) but lovely natural grain and film-like detail are both here. Black levels are solid and contrast is strong. Kino's 1080p full frame transfer looks good by any objective standard. And considering the past treatment of this title some would say this version is a minor revelation.

    The Linear PCM 2.0 mono track here is clear and well balanced. Some mild dropouts and hiss and age related flaws rarely appear but there isn't much here to report. It's a perfectly decent period audio track. There are sadly no subtitles however.

    By Kino standards this is a pretty stacked set. The main draw is the excellent audio commentary by filmmaker and Welles expert Bret Wood. He has a lot to say about both the history of the film as well as it's thematic structure and the symbolism present. Informative but never dull and scholarly, this is a great listen.

    The Billy Wilder short film DEATH MILLS is also included. This is the short that provides the footage that is shown in THE STRANGER itself. This is a disturbing informational piece about the Nazi extermination camps. There are also some HD trailers and a small still gallery.

    The final and most unusual extra is the inclusion of four of Welles' radio broadcasts from the 40's that tie into the Nazi theme. My favorite was "Alameda" - a fictional tale about a Nazi takeover of a small Canadian town.

    The Final Word:

    Kino has once again rescued a great film from the evil clutches of PD hell. With its strong and naturally pleasing A/V and worthy extras, THE STRANGER is a no-brainer recommendation.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!





















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