Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Day 217: The Stranger (1946) - Rank 4.5/5


Hey, it’s another film where we see just who can defeat the Nazis and it turns out that yes, you, Suzie B. Homemaker, can expose the mongrel Nazis for the slime they are. That is, if you can handle having two X chromosomes long enough to see past your love and emotions and happy marriage to realize that the man you wed spent the past couple of years gassing Jews to death in concentration camps. Throw in a dash of cat-and-mouse, a dead dog and a hell of a lot of clocks, bake for an hour and a half and we get Orson Welles’ moody film noir “The Stranger.”

Charles Rankin (Welles) is a well-respected man in the sleepy town of Harper, Connecticut with an adoring wife and reputable career as a college professor. Funny thing is he just happens to be one of the most notorious members of the Third Reich, and when an old colleague comes to him for help, he's shadowed by an investigator with the War Crimes Commission. Rankin quickly kills his old friend in an effort to throw the investigator, Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson), off the trail, but it has the opposite effect, pushing Wilson to snoop about Harper all the more. It quickly becomes evident that Rankin will do whatever it takes, including killing members of his new family, in order to keep his past hidden.

The photography in this film is absolutely gorgeous and Welles really establishes himself here as an excellent storyteller (I personally found it more enjoyable than the quintessential "Citizen Kane," though I'm sure that such an assertion will lead to my excommunication from the cinephile community). Robinson is perfectly cast as Rankin's foil, shedding off his cliched gangster typecast to embody a personality as clever and calculating as Rankin, though his efforts are backed with a sense of justice. The film's climax even rivals the Mt. Rushmore showdown of "North by Northwest" as a battle ensues atop the towns grand clock tower. Definitely a top must-see in the Welles' pantheon.

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