I’ve been watching a few of Orson Welles‘s later films (with cameo’s) and I thought it was time to take a look at one of his own films, one that on the surface doesn’t appear to have been butchered in the editing room. You could say that The Stranger (1946) has come out practically unscathed after what happened with The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) which is only half as good as it really could be. If only the footage that was cut could be found and pieced back together again. Still that’s another discussion for another review. Looking at this film-noir that on the surface appears more main-stream, has more in common with the genre that accidentally grew around that time and Welles’s breakthrough film Citizen Kane (1941) where he was left to his own devices. OK here we have less of that style which he uses more subtly to get the feelings of fear, shock and innocence across to an audience who at the time had just come out of war with Germany and Japan that finished that year. They were being exposed to newsreels of harrowing images of concentration camps that had been discovered. The full extent of Nazi crimes was being made public. Even for an audience today seeing footage from the camps is unsettling, traumatic, a hard watch to say the least in the face of incredible human suffering and loss. Orson Welles has taken a gamble playing with the images that have been burned into the short-term memory of America.
Taking that context into a film that is today very much forgotten among more memorable films he directed. This is very much a product of its time. You could dare I say remake it today with an Islamic State focus rather than a Nazi that has gone into hiding. Typically played by Welles himself you see less of him and more of the investigating detective Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) who takes a chance by releasing another Nazi onto the streets. Hoping that he will lead him to the bigger prize, that of Professor Charles Rankin otherwise known as the notoriously media shy Franz Kindler who played a major role in the gas chambers, a high-ranking Nazi that got away. Thankfully a fictional Nazi that made this film slightly safer, instead of a true account that never happen thankfully. However it’s the thought that even in the safety of a state of rich, prosperous and middle class Connecticut, it makes you think how this could happen in small town America.
Welles even takes a lower billing, it’s all about the search for the truth, seeking to restore safety and security in America. A brave choice by the director who really has a lot of fun in the role. Robinson’s seen to be settling into roles of a maturer man which really suits him, he’s no longer the gangster of the 1930’s. He brings really weight to the role, you feel he believes the lines he is delivering. He’s Americas conscience still fighting and reeling from the trauma of war. Whilst Loretta Young is more side dressing between these two men. She’s weak and indecisive, trapped in a marriage of convienence to a man hiding. Shes America that is still in denial, needing that jolt of reality to wake up to the horrors of the previous half decade or more.
Stylistically this film is very much Welles, the cinematography never stays still for long. Un-nerving us with heavy and high tracking shots, mixed with cuts that leave you on the edge of your seat. It really is not a film-noir of the standard we are used to in the city, I wouldn’t even call it a noir on these terms Welles simply uses the devices he pioneered and pushes them further. It’s not quite as dark as The Lady from Shanghai (1947) or Touch of Evil (1958), he’s still fine tuning. We are outside in the sunshine of Eastern America where trouble never really happens. We are taken into an unsettled world that is yet to full understand what is happening either at home or in Europe. This isn’t even a war-film, it falls more into straight thriller with over-powering sense of fear that has loosened a little with time. We no longer have this enemy around us, a few are being found into their old age.
I guess to really feel the power of this film you have seen it on first release. You do wonder if the truth will out itself and that is what remains. An enemy that has long been put to bed can still stir up your deepest fears, which shows the power of the film over the course of time. The context maybe more historical, its the fear of the unknown and distant being closer than you think which stays with you. I could watch this film on mute and still it would have a power over me which is all down to the strong visuals that stay with you which is what you want from a film of this age.
- The Stranger (1946) Orson Welles (twentyfourframes.wordpress.com)
- Orson Welles in THE STRANGER (1946) (kelleepratt.blogspot.co.uk)
- Blu-ray Review – The Stranger (1946) (cinehouseuk.blogspot.co.uk)
After the success of Hitchcock’s first film in the U.S. Rebecca (1940) there is a loosening up in tone when it comes to his second film in the states Foreign Correspondent (1940). Casting the successful Joel McCrea before he becomes a man of the Westerns in the 1940s and 50s in this pre-war film that fictionalised the events that lead up to WWII.
The tone of the film begins far lighter than most of Hitchcock’s work set in a New York Paper who want to know what is going on in unstable Europe, knowing that war is imminent. Not wanting to send a war correspondent, instead believing a massive crime is being committed, they send a crime reporter who is unaware if the world outside of America. This could be seen as Hitchcock‘s perception of his American friends in their isolationist position over Europe.
With a new identity John Jones/Huntley Haverstock (McCrea) he heads to London to interview the Dutch Diplomat Van Meer (Albert Basserman) an elderly man who is growing wreary of the changing world around him, still is striving for peace. Before Jones can interview Van Meer he begins to fall for Carol Fisher (Laraine Day) who her and her father Stephen Fisher (Herbert Marshall) are apart of a peace organisation that are doing their best to represent the people in averting the upcoming war. Jones is soaking this all up and falling for the Carol Fisher with every word she utters.
Things start to heat up for our fish out of water reporter in a foreign land when he witnesses first hand the assassination of Van Meer a story that is too good to pass up, joining up with another reporter Ffolliott (George Sanders) and Carol Fisher are hot on the trail of the dirty rat who shot the diplomat. Heading out into the country in a field of windmills the trail runs cold until our reporter picks up on a few things that only Hitchcock would point out to our average man and audience. Something is going on in the windmill that the stop at, leading to a more dangerous investigation. When the police are informed of Jones’s findings he is proved wrong when nothing is to be found.
For the rest of the film he has to prove to those around him there is more going surrounding the diplomats assassination, when in fact he is alive in London, being coerced to reveal important treaty details. Something that he wont do easily. Whilst Jones’s life is at stake as he travels around in London. Only his fellow reporter Ffolliott really believes him, setting up a trap to land Stephen Fisher who is behind this morally corrupt plot that he believe will save his country from going to war.
All is revealed in a dramatic climax as war is declared whilst everyone is mid-air aboard a plane to America, landing everyone into dangerous waters (literally) before the truth can finally out to the world. Foreign Correspondent can be seen as Hitchcock’s way of shouting at America to pay attention to the conflict back home that he was lucky to escape. America was more than happy to accept the likes of German directors such as Billy Wilder and Fritz Lang before the war began. Yet took no interest beyond secret surveillance as we later found out. McCrea is average America opening it’s eyes to the bigger problems, and how countries will do anything to avoid war. Not the strongest of his body of work, but has some of the elements that make his films stand out.