The Stranger (1946 film)

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The Stranger
The Stranger (film).jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Orson Welles
Produced by S.P. Eagle[1]
Screenplay by Anthony Veiller
Decla Dunning
John Huston
Orson Welles
Story by Victor Trivas
Starring Orson Welles
Loretta Young
Edward G. Robinson
Cinematography Russell Metty
International Pictures
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release dates

1948 (France)
Running time
95 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office 931,868 admissions (France)[2]

The Stranger is a 1946 American film noir directed by Orson Welles and starring Welles, Edward G. Robinson, and Loretta Young. The film was based on a screenplay written by Victor Trivas, which was nominated for an Academy Award. Sam Spiegel (credited as "S.P. Eagle")[1] was the film's producer, and the film's musical score is by Bronisław Kaper.

The film was made by International Pictures, and released by RKO Radio Pictures. The copyright on the film originally belonged to The Haig Corporation, but the film is in the public domain because the producers did not renew the copyright in 1973.[3][4]


In 1946, Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) of the United Nations War Crimes Commission is hunting for a Nazi fugitive Franz Kindler (Orson Welles), a war criminal who has erased all evidence which might identify him. Kindler has assumed a new identity, Charles Rankin, and has become a prep school teacher in a small town in the United States. He has married Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), daughter of Supreme Court Justice Adam Longstreet (Philip Merivale).

Wilson releases Kindler's former associate Meinike (Konstantin Shayne), hoping the man will lead him to Kindler. Wilson follows Meinike to the town of Harper, Connecticut, but loses him before he meets with Kindler. When Kindler/Rankin and Meinike do meet, Meinike, who is repentant, begs Kindler to confess his crimes. Instead, Kindler strangles Meinike, who might expose him.

Eventually, Wilson deduces that Rankin is Kindler, but not having witnessed the meeting with Meinike, he has no proof. Only Mrs. Rankin knows that Meinike came to meet her husband. To get her to admit this, Wilson must convince her that her husband is a criminal – before Rankin decides to eliminate the threat to him by killing her.

Rankin's pose begins to unravel when Red, the family dog, discovers Meinike's body. To protect his secret, Rankin poisons Red.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Rankin begins to suspect her husband, but is too blinded by love to accept the facts. She is torn between her desire to learn the truth about him, and the idea of helping him create his new life. Mr. Wilson shows her graphic footage of Nazi concentration camps, and explains how Kindler/Rankin developed the idea of genocide. But not until Mary discovers Rankin's plot to kill her does she finally break down. In a tense moment, she dares Rankin to kill her. Rankin tries to, but is prevented by Wilson and Mary's brother Noah. Pursued by them, he flees into a church belfry, and falls to his death.


Left to right: Edward G. Robinson, Richard Long, Loretta Young, Martha Wentworth, Orson Welles, Philip Merivale, Byron Keith and an unknown actress in The Stranger (1946)
Orson Welles & Loretta Young


Robinson appeared seven years earlier in the anti-Nazi film Confessions of a Nazi Spy.

Spiegel initially planned to hire John Huston to direct; when Welles offered to direct the film, Spiegel agreed on three conditions, all of which Welles accepted:[1]

  1. The script was to be edited by Ernest J. Nims;
  2. No script changes once production begins; and
  3. If the film went over budget, Welles would pay the studio out of his own pocket.

Welles planned to use the campus of his alma mater, the Todd School for Boys in Woodstock, Illinois, as the setting for The Stranger. The idea was ruled out by budget restrictions, but a few artifacts are seen in the film. Pennants in the gymnasium read "Harper vs. Todd",[5]:197 and a notice on the wall is signed "Coach Roskie" — Anthony C. Roskie, Todd's longtime athletic director. Other signs refer to Clover Hall, a building on the Todd campus, and "Mrs. Collins" — Annetta Collins, teacher, housemother and director of kitchen services.[6][7] It was Collins who had recruited Welles for Todd in 1926, after meeting the boy at his father's hotel in Grand Detour, Illinois.[8]:22

In an interview Loretta Young recalled that originally Orson Welles wanted his friend and fellow Mercury Theatre player Agnes Moorehead to play the investigator's role but producer Sam Spiegel (billed as S.P.Eagle) refused, casting Edward G. Robinson instead.[9]


The Stranger was the only film made by Welles to have been a bona fide box office success upon its release.[citation needed]

In a July 1946 review, Bosley Crowther called it a "bloodless, manufactured show"; according to Crowther, Welles "gave no illusion of the sort of depraved and heartless creatures that the Nazi mass-murderers were. He is just Mr. Welles, a young actor, doing a boyishly bad acting job in a role which is highly incredible—another weak feature of the film. As a matter of fact, the writing of The Stranger, by Anthony Veiller, is the weakest thing about it—and that estimation includes another silly performance by Loretta Young as the killer's wife. For the premise is not only farfetched, but the whole construction of the tale relieves very soon all the mystery and suspense that such a story should have."[10]

At the 19th Academy Awards, Victor Trivas was nominated for Best Story, losing to Clemence Dane.

The Stranger holds a 96% rating at Rotten Tomatoes based on 23 reviews.[11]

Fascism/Nazism and the film[edit]

Before The Stranger, Welles had shown an interest in the nature of Fascism and, especially, documentary footage of the concentration camps. In his column for The New York Post, Welles wrote that this documentary footage "must be seen" as an index of the "putrefaction of the soul, a perfect spiritual garbage" associated with what "we have been calling [...] Fascism. The stench is unendurable." (Welles, quoted in Heylin, 2005: 163; emphasis in original). Welles worked some of these preoccupations into the film: the film openly engages with the fallout of Fascism. In one striking scene Mr. Wilson shows Mary Longstreet some footage of the concentration camps. Mary sits in stunned silence, and Welles holds the camera on a close-up of Loretta Young as the light from the projector flickers across her face.[12] In the scene Wilson says that Kindler "conceived the theory of genocide — mass de-population of conquered countries."

In his Post columns, Welles wrote that the social reforms in post-war Germany would not eradicate Fascism; Nazi believers were "laying the fuel for another conflagration..." In one of the film’s strongest scenes, Mr. Wilson and Kindler/Rankin join the Longstreets for dinner. The dinner conversation turns to an article about social reforms in post-war Germany. Rankin asserts that the Germans will never give up their dream of world conquest — directly echoing the sentiment of Welles’ Post columns.[12]

Home media[edit]

Long in the public domain, The Stranger received home video releases for many years, including a 2009 release by UK's Network DVD.[12] An archival restoration was released on DVD and Blu-ray Disc by Kino Classics in October 2013.[13] Kino's release was mastered from a 35mm print at the Library of Congress; the release includes audio commentary by Bret Wood. Death Mills (1945), a U.S. War Department documentary on the Nazi death camps directed by Billy Wilder — excerpts of which appear in The Stranger — is among the supplementary material. Other extras include four of Welles's World War II radio broadcasts: "Alameda" (Nazi Eyes on Canada, 1942), "War Workers" (Ceiling Unlimited, 1942), "Brazil" (Hello Americans, 1942), and "Bikini Atomic Test" (Orson Welles Commentaries, 1946).[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e The Stranger at the American Film Institute Catalog. Retrieved on 2013-11-10.
  2. ^ Orson Welles box office information in France at Box Office Story
  3. ^ The Stranger, DVD#9_9346,Madacy Entertainment Group, Inc. 2002
  4. ^ McCarthy, Gail (8 October 2010). "Return of 'The Stranger': Showing spotlights local man's restoration". Gloucester Times. 
  5. ^ Wood, Bret. Orson Welles: a Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1990. ISBN 0-313-26538-0
  6. ^ "Todd School Coach Anthony Roskie and Orson Welles' 'The Stranger'". Wellesnet, May 13, 2014. Retrieved 2014-09-22. 
  7. ^ "Todd School for Boys 1848–1954, Woodstock, Illinois". Woodstock Public Library. Retrieved 2014-09-05. 
  8. ^ France, Richard, The Theatre of Orson Welles. Lewisburg, Pennsylvania: Bucknell University Press, 1977. ISBN 0-8387-1972-4
  9. ^ Bawden, Jim Loretta Young Interview
  10. ^ Crowther, Bosley (July 11, 1946). "The Stranger, With Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young and Orson Welles...". Retrieved 2013-11-10. 
  11. ^ The Stranger at Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved on 2014-09-22.
  12. ^ a b c Lewis, Paul (9 January 2009). "Stranger (The) - Sponsored Review". Retrieved 2013-11-10. 
  13. ^ a b The Stranger at Kino Lorber, Inc. Retrieved 2013-10-05.

External links[edit]