In this thriller from 1946, Edward G. Robinson plays Mr. Wilson, an operative of the United Nations' War Crimes Commission intent on tracking down a former Nazi war criminal named Franz Kindler. Franz was reported to be responsible for some horrible war crimes committed during the Second World War and has also been accused of helping to plan the Holocaust. To find Kindler, Wilson releases a fellow war criminal named Konrad Meinike (Konstantin Shayne) who he trails to the city of Hartford, Connecticut. Here Meinike is murdered before he can contact Kindler, who Wilson suspects is living quietly in the surrounding area under an assumed identity.
With Meinike out of the picture on a permanent basis, the only clue that Wilson has to work off of is that Kindler has an obsession with antique clocks of all kinds. As he starts putting the pieces of the puzzle together he begins closing in on Professor Charles Rankin (Orson Welles) and his lovely and dutiful wife, Mary (Loretta Young). Wilson is sure that Rankin is actually Kindler, but there's no evidence to support his theories and the townsfolk seem to disagree with him. Wilson, however, is a smart man and he soon comes up with a clever plan to expose Rankin for the monster he believes him to be.
Directed by Orson Welles and based off of a script from Anthony Veiller (that featured uncredited rewrites from Welles and John Huston), The Stranger is a superb exercise in creating cinematic tension. Expertly acted by two literal titans of the era's cinematic elite, the powerhouse combo of Welles and Robinson allows the two actors to play off of each other perfectly. In fact, simply watching Welles play a character so deeply imbedded in his own lies is reason enough to watch this picture. Here he delivers it all with such conviction that we almost fall for it ourselves. Add to that the fact that Robinson is at the top of his game here and this really is one of those movies where the cast make it far better than it would have been had it been performed by a lesser group. The supporting efforts from Konstantin Shayne and the immortally beautiful Loretta Young are also quite good, but not surprisingly Welles and Robinson steal the show.
While it's been well documented that Welles didn't think nearly as highly of this picture as he did of some of his other films, that doesn't change the fact that The Stranger is still a pretty fantastic film. The story keeps you guessing and the small town setting (which was actually more or less just a well-made up Hollywood back lot) functions as be the perfect location for shifty characters and morally dubious decision making. It does a great job of pulling us into the story and making us think not only about what might happen to the characters but also about the morality of what they're going through here.
The cinematography is exceptional, complimenting Welles' pitch perfect moments of tension with consistently perfect angles and aiding in the drama and the suspense immeasurably. While the film does take a little while to hit its stride and feels a bit slow for the first half hour or so, once it picks up it will have no trouble keeping your attention right through to the finale, which even by modern standards, is a strong and exciting finish.
The Stranger is a public domain film and was previously released on Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack by Film Chest in a 1.33.1 full frame transfer that suffered from some pretty overzealous noise reduction that sapped out much of the detail and resulted in some waxy skin tones. This transfer from Kino is a new one, taken from 35mm archival elements and presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition also framed at 1.33.1 and it's quite a nice improvement. Contrast is noticeably improved and the increase in detail is quite substantial. Film grain is present but never overpowering and the black levels look decent. There is no noise reduction here at all and while some minor print damage and scratches are easy to spot throughout, but all in all this is a very good transfer of some pretty decent source material that offers strong detail and texture and plenty of depth.
The English language LPCM Mono track on the Blu-ray from Kino is also an improvement. While this is still a bit flat in spots and limited by the original source materials used, there is better clarity here and more depth to the dialogue. Levels are properly balanced and there aren't any issues with any serious hiss or distortion. The mix is clean and crisp and offers pretty good range for an older single channel track. There are no alternate language options or subtitles of any kind provided.
The extras for this release, which are quite substantial, start off with an interesting audio commentary by film historian Bret Wood. This is a pretty informative track and it does a good job of covering the film's history and additionally in providing some interesting socio-political and historical context for the picture. Wood also offers up some interesting trivia about the cast and crew and talks a fair bit about how this film falls into Welles' filmography and makes some interesting critical observations about what works here. It's a good track, it's well-paced and quite worth listening to (particularly if you've seen the film a few times, as many of us have at this point).
Also included on the disc is the twenty-one minute short film Death Mills from 1945 which appears in The Stranger. Directed by Billy Wilder, this is a quick documentary about the atrocities committed in the Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War and it's pretty harrowing stuff. It shows what was found in the camps when the Allies moved in, so we get a firsthand look at the horrible conditions that occurred their and the effects on those who survived the camp as well as those who did not.
Kino have also included a nice selection of Orson Welles' Wartime Radio Broadcasts. There are four broadcast programs included here, each one seemingly in its entirety and they make for some excellent companion pieces to the feature. The four broadcasts are:
Alameda from the CBC series Nazi Eyes On Canada from 1942, which clocks in at twenty-nine minutes.
War Workers from the CBS series Ceiling Unlimited from 1942, which clocks in at fourteen minutes.
Brazil from the series CBS Hello Americans from 1942 running twenty-nine minutes.
Bikini Atomic Test from the ABC series Orson Welles Commentaries from 1946 at fourteen minutes.
Each of these radio broadcast plays overtop of a still and some text that provides some historical information about its origins and offering a general overview and some trivia about the content. These are worth checking out as Welles was obviously well known for his ability to make for completely absorbing radio broadcast material. Here he isn't above getting on board with some exaggerations here and there to suit his dramatic style but it's make for occasionally riveting listening.
Rounding out the extras is the film's original theatrical trailer and a decent sized still gallery as well as some classy static menus and chapter selection. The standard Blu-ray case fits inside a nice looking slipcase as well.
Kino's Blu-ray release of The Stranger puts past issues to shame. The movie looks very nice here in this fresh high definition transfer taken from solid 35mm elements and it sounds pretty good too. The disc also includes some excellent supplemental materials that not only document the history and importance of the film but which compliment it thematically as well. This isn't Welles' best film but it's still a decent enough mystery and thanks to Kino's efforts it has received an impressive presentation. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.