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The Stranger: MGM Film Noir DVD Review

The Stranger (1946) movie posterimg src="images/q-s/stranger-poster2.jpg" width="190" height="145" alt="The Stranger (1946) movie poster #2" border="2"> The Stranger

Theatrical Release: May 25, 1946 / Running Time: 95 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Orson Welles

Cast: Edward G. Robinson (Mr. Wilson), Loretta Young (Mary Longstreet), Orson Welles (Professor Charles Rankin), Philip Merivale (Judge Adam Longstreet), Richard Long (Noah Longstreet), Konstantin Shayne (Konrad Meinike), Byron Keith (Dr. Jeffrey Lawrence), Billy House (Mr. Potter), Martha Wentworth (Sara)

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By Aaron Wallace

Orson Welles made his on-screen and directorial feature debuts in 1941's Citizen Kane. Considered by many to be the greatest film ever made, one might say that he couldn't have asked for a better start. The movie was a box office failure, however, and despite positive reviews and Oscar nominations, more than a decade would pass before it would be recognized as an innovative masterpiece.
In the years between, Welles struggled with overbearing studios and contract negotiations. Still, he managed to produce an impressive body of work, especially given that he was active in nearly every arena of filmmaking.

His first box office hit came in 1946 with his third directing credit, The Stranger. Once again, Welles cast himself in front of his own camera, this time playing one of three leads, a professor named Charles Rankin. The protagonist, however, is Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson), an agent of the United Nations War Crimes Commission who employs unconventional methods of detection in his search for an infamous Nazi fugitive named Franz Kindler.

Wilson finds himself destined for Harper, Connecticut, the small town in which Professor Rankin resides, ready to marry Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), the daughter of a US Supreme Court justice. Just before their union, though, the audience is given plenty of reason to fear for poor Ms. Longstreet when the mysterious Rankin secretly commits murder. The sudden death is the first clue in Wilson's case against Rankin, who he believes to be none other than the heinous Franz Kindler.

In "The Stranger", Edward G. Robinson plays Mr. Wilson, a UN War Crimes Commission agent on the prowl. The mind of Professor Charles Rankin (Orson Welles, right) appears to be wandering as Konrad (Konstantin Shayne) warns him of trouble.

The movie plays out much like a standard detective thriller, reportedly rendered more conventional by studio interference with Welles and screenwriter Victor Trivas' original plans. Mr. Wilson is the defender of justice and truth while Rankin is the suspect for whom guilt immediately seems a safe assumption and Longstreet is the pitifully naive damsel in distress. Don't let a plot map fool you, though; this movie is anything but ordinary.

The Stranger delves into the psyche of postwar America, reflecting social anxieties with stark candor. Released on the heels of the Third Reich's fall, the film pries open the unspoken national fear that the Nazis were still out there, lurking -- perhaps even in small-town America -- and awaiting their return to power. Hitler provided a tangible, verifiable evil, the likes of which the world had never seen and had been unaware of even as it unfolded. Germany's concentration camps wouldn't soon cease to haunt those who learned of them, a fact that is daringly demonstrated by the film's use of actual footage from the gas chambers. This brave appraisal of fear and uncertainty elevates The Stranger above any run-of-the-mill detective story, qualifying it as a horror-tinged film noir, even if it doesn't always evenly line up with the genre.

Visually, the film approaches perfection. As with Citizen Kane, Welles' masterful direction astounds with every shot. Inventive and bold but never jarring, every second of film offers something more than just story to chew on. Bright Harper descends into dark noir as Welles seems eternally cognizant of mise en scène.

Is it a nice day for a white wedding? Viewers have reason to suspect otherwise. Mr. Wilson enlists the aid of Noah (Richard Long), the suspect's young brother-in-law.

Of course, Welles doesn't confine his talent to the production side of cinema. As Professor Charles Rankin, he is as capable of nuance and complexity in acting as he is in directing.
Also worthy of praise is Edward G. Robinson, who presents an entirely different character here than he did two years earlier in Double Indemnity and The Woman in the Window.

Bronislau Kaper's score deserves mention too. Though it's prone to the crescendos and noisiness that are common to thrillers, it frequently rises to a lush quality that lends a certain gravitas to the proceedings.

The Stranger has been released to DVD in Region 1 several times before, even still available in various incarnations on Amazon.com. Its latest release comes from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment as part of the MGM Film Noir collection. That makes this the first time that the film has been distributed on DVD by a major studio. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean much in the way of supplementary content. For details on the additional merits of the new disc (or lack thereof), read on.

Buy The Stranger on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio)
Dolby Digital Mono (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish; Closed Captioned
Release Date: July 10, 2007
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.98
Black Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

The film is presented in its original 1.33:1 fullscreen aspect ratio. It doesn't look bad on DVD, but it doesn't look great either. Grain and unwanted visual artifacts frequently appear and flickering is occasionally problematic as well. With film noir, it's sometimes hard to tell intentionally drastic contrast levels apart from signs that a restoration is needed, but a couple of scenes seem perhaps excessively dark. If consumer reviews online are to be believed, however,
it's at least a bit better than what some of the previous releases have offered. The majority of these visual impairments are easily ignored when the viewer isn't looking for them.

Audio is presented through a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track, which replicates the original theatrical presentation. Naturally, mono is never going to bring the house down, but the track is always audible and never particularly frustrating.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, and PACKAGING

As is the case with the other MGM Film Noir DVDs released this month (The Woman in the Window, Kansas City Confidential, and A Bullet for Joey), there are no bonus features included whatsoever. This movie is certainly intriguing enough to leave its viewers wishing there was some sort of commentary track or documentary to follow it up with, but given that its first major studio release is only now coming in 2007 and that the demand for the title is probably not overwhelming, a barebones disc is no surprise.

The single-layered disc, which is labeled with disc art similar to the cover's, is housed inside a standard black keepcase. All of the menu screens are still and silent and the main menu is about as simple as they come these days.

When in doubt, scare the unsuspecting bride (Loretta Young) with Nazi concentration camp footage until she complies. Are you pondering what I'm pondering? Shrouded by darkness atop a church bell tower, Orson Welles strikes a Harry Lime-esque pose.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Given Citizen Kane's stature in American cinema, one might expect widespread reverence for any of Orson Welles' films. Nevertheless, there's a pretty good chance that you've never heard of The Stranger, which saw the legendary auteur in fine form as both actor and director. Though narratively somewhat conventional, the movie is thematically stirring and an artistic triumph. Even with only passable audio and video quality and a complete lack of supplements, this is one Stranger that you'll definitely want to get acquainted with.

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Reviewed July 15, 2007.



Text copyright 2007 UltimateDisney.com. Images copyright 1946 MGM and 2007 MGM/Fox Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.