elab49 -> RE: My Top Film Noir (11/7/2008 8:13:47 PM)
Ok. Format kind of stolen from Homer, still kind of in progress. Also - now 40 [:)]
The Stranger (1946)
d. Orson Welles, w. Anthony Veiller (Screenplay), Victor Trivias/Decla Dunning (Adaptation) from a story by Victor Trivias. Uncredited contributions from Welles and John Huston.
Spoiler-free synopsis Edward G Robinson tracks down a high-ranking Nazi responsible for concentration camps to small-town America. In order to confirm his identity he insinuates himself into his suspect's life.
An Orson Welles film, but not as you know it. Originally just the lead he took over directing duties as John Huston was still serving in the armed forces. This was Welles's attempt to show the industry he was reliable that he could bring in a film on time and under budget. Which he did but he also ceded final cut. In later years Welles regularly derided the film his most commercially successful.
This doesn't mean there isn't anything of Welles in the film. Although it is impossible to work out who wrote what it is likely he contributed heavily to the anti-Nazi speechifying his own writings at the time dwelt regularly on his belief that the world was not yet free of Nazism and there was still a strong risk of another war. He also managed some casting of his own droll draughts hustler and town hub Potter was an old vaudevillian, one of Welles's perennial loves (Vaudeville, not Billy House).
A relatively unusual noir entry, it still fits comfortably under that description. The lighting particularly in the first part of the film as the escaping Meinike tries to track down his former boss is an indicator of what was to come from Russell Metty (who had worked with Welles before and would be used again on the superior Touch of Evil, and also behind the camera in Robert Montgomery's beautifully shot "Ride a Pink Horse). The use of reflection and shadows roots it in the genre, even if it prefers curtains to blinds.
Our 'hero' is no black and white protagonist - although Wilson is clearly the good guy he shows little compunction against using an innocent and putting them in danger to achieve his ends. We've seen the footage of the concentration camps the first to appear on film and we understand his motivation. But do the means justify the ends?
Once Meinike turns up on his doorstep, Rankin's life gradually falls apart. He notes himself how one thing leads to another then another he can't break the chain and escape, his downfall is inevitable. Wilson quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson to emphasise the implacability of the pursuit there is nowhere to hide.
Commit a crime, and the earth is made of glass. Commit a crime, and it seems as if a coat of snow fell on the ground, such as reveals in the woods the track of every partridge and fox and squirrel and mole. You cannot recall the spoken word, you cannot wipe out the foot-track, you cannot draw up the ladder, so as to leave no inlet or clew
Overall not a bad film but not Welles's best. Here he is overly twitchy, the music jars with what is on screen (he tried for Herrman but couldn't get him) and straitlaced Loretta doesn't really have the chops for the angst.
So why is it here? The Stranger is a tale of what might have been. Welles own cut was more than 20 minutes longer than currently exists and around an hour was cut from the original screenplay. His vision as discovered by a Welles obsessive called Bret Wood was more of a nightmarish and highly expressionistic warning on the still present dangers of the Nazis with a dreamlike narrative that would have mirrored and paid homage to Spellbound (explaining some of the structural quirks in the current version including the final line - Wilson speaking to Mary (and America) is told to go home to sleep). And some intriguing casting ideas - much as I love Edward G as this list will probably show! the idea of Agnes Moorhead as a female FBI agent in pursuit makes me salivate.
Removing much of the conflict/angst and fear being symbolically portrayed while relying on a few tics and disorderliness was the price of a film delivered on budget (even if he basically build a Connecticut town on the lot along with that fantastically eye-catching tower). The music is discordant with the subject matter and more suited to melodrama and while the early scenes show cameraman Metty at his best small town America generally defeats him. The final confrontation, however, is beautifully put together with the Angel of Death featuring in a really quite gruesome ending and Rankin giving himself away at dinner is neatly done.
Trivia: Franz Kindler became Rankin allegedly as a pop at the HUAC chair
Highly Amusing moment - aide memoire for a killer!!! Gotta get that timing right.
Verdict - a highly watchable film on many levels right up to the small people of America rising up and taking the losses to bring the evil of Nazism down.