, according to Orson Welles, "is the worst of my films. There is nothing of me in that picture. I did it to prove that I could put out a movie as well as anyone else." True, set beside Citizen Kane
, Touch of Evil
, or even The Trial
, The Stranger
is as close to production-line stuff as the great Orson ever came. But even on autopilot Welles still leaves most filmmakers standing.
The shadow of the Second World War hangs heavy over the plot. A war crimes investigator, played by Edward G Robinson, tracks down a senior Nazi, Franz Kindler, to a sleepy New England town where he's living in concealment as a respected college professor. The script, credited to Anthony Veiller but with uncredited input from Welles and John Huston, is riddled with implausibilities: we're asked to believe, for a start, that there'd be no extant photos of a top Nazi leader. The casting's badly skewed, too. Welles wanted Agnes Moorehead as the investigator and Robinson as Kindler, but his producer, Sam Spiegel, wouldn't wear it. So Welles himself plays the supposedly cautious and self-effacing fugitive--and if there was one thing Welles could never play, it was unobtrusive. What's more, Spiegel chopped out most of the two opening reels set in South America, in Welles' view, "the best stuff in the picture".
Still, the film's far from a write-off. Welles' eye for stunning visuals rarely deserted him and, aided by Russell Metty's skewed, shadowy photography, The Stranger builds to a doomy grand guignol climax in a clock tower that Hitchcock must surely have recalled when he made Vertigo. And Robinson, dogged in pursuit, is as quietly excellent as ever.
On the DVD: not much in the way of extras, except a waffly full-length commentary from Russell Cawthorne that tells us about the history of clock-making and where Edward G was buried, but precious little about the making of the film. Print and sound are acceptable, but though remastering is claimed, there's little evidence of it. --Philip Kemp