Review

  • The Stranger is a remarkable film for several reasons. One is that it demonstrates Orson Welles' considerable talent for designing interesting lighting effects, for wonderful visual composition, and for creating an atmosphere pregnant with menacing possibilities. Second, is that it contains film footage (however brief and sanitized) of corpses "manufactured" in the Shoah (more widely known as the Nazi Holocaust). In this connection, it also plainly presents Nazism as essentially anti-Semitic, and even contains mention of concentration camps and gas chambers.

    The latter of these two reasons may seem unremarkable now, but as a student of the Shoah and the history of its handling in popular culture, I was stunned to find this issue addressed in such a direct manner in a Hollywood movie from 1946. After all, even documentaries concerning the Shoah, a decade or more removed from those events, barely mentioned that the principle victims of the Shoah were Jews (see "Night and Fog", Alain Resnais' otherwise excellent 1956 effort). Fears of post-war indifference due to anti-Semitism even led Simon Wiesenthal to spread the untruth that as many as six million non-Jewish people perished in the Holocaust (of the 6-7 million estimated killed, the vast majority were Jews).

    Perhaps it is this treatment of the Shoah, and the chance to play a Nazi-hunter, that explains the presence of Edward G. Robinson in this picture (he was born a Romanian Jew named Emanuel Goldenberg). The presence of this immensely talented actor begs for an explanation, sadly, because aside from the reasons noted above, the film is simply terrible.

    The writing, acting (even from Robinson), and direction are about as subtle as a poke in the eye. Every predictable emotion and obvious motive by every character is announced in ridiculously overplayed gestures and movements, accompanied by tedious, wooden dialog, and then explained outright to the audience in yet still more tedious dialog. Imagine Citizen Kane remade using a version of the script that was designed to make the plot and all the characters easily and fully understood by dull-witted eight year olds who suffer from attention deficit disorder. (No offense to such people, I just don't want to see movies made with them as the target audience.) In the mini biography of the screenwriter Victor Trivas here at IMDb, it suggests that he was nominated for an Oscar for his work on this film. If that is true, the Academy Awards very narrowly missed its own Milli Vanilli scandal (the popular music group that won a Grammy only to have it revealed that the "artists" so awarded did not actually do their own singing). Either Trivas regarded movie goers as complete idiots, was himself a complete idiot, or had his work ruined by complete idiots. This screenplay is simply terrible, and even great acting and direction (neither in evidence here) could have saved this movie from being lousy because of it.

    If you are a fan of the film noir cycle for its visual style only, an Orson Welles completist, or interested in popular culture treatments of the Shoah, check it out. Otherwise, I would recommend two hours of random television viewing first.