Starring: Orson Welles, Loretta Young, Edward G. Robinson
Director: Orson Welles
Running Time: 95 mins
The Stranger is an American film about a detective who arrives in a small town in Connecticut, searching ruthlessly for a Nazi fugitive hiding among the residents.
I was really engrossed by this film. Although the 1940s definitely threw up better noir thrillers, I found The Stranger a really entertaining and consistently exciting movie that’s tense enough to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout, but also simple enough not to get too bogged down in any complex mystery, a perfect balance that makes it a great way to spend an hour and a half.
The good thing about this film is that it’s not set up to surprise or shock you with any stunning twists or revelations. Unlike The Third Man, which is all about uncertainty and suspense, The Stranger is a film that cleverly positions its characters around our main suspect – who we know right from the start – and seeing them surround him closer and closer as he finds himself increasingly unable to evade capture any longer.
In that, while there is tension here, it’s not an uncertain and uneasy tension, but rather more like watching a powerful force closing in on an increasingly desperate criminal, and the way in which the film snowballs with its pace and drama as it moves towards its conclusion is really exciting to watch, even if the end result is an inevitability right from the beginning.
Another big plus about The Stranger is just how dynamic and energetic a film it is. Film-noir stands strong to this day thanks to its few greatest classics – Casablanca, Sunset Boulevard etc – but the majority of the films in the tier below those feel rather dated and lacking in energy when watched in the modern day.
However, thanks to Orson Welles’ directing, which was years ahead of its time as previously shown in Citizen Kane, The Stranger is full of energy and excitement throughout, with his clever use of lighting, camera angles and music building the energy from the beginning, and releasing it in the film’s last act with a sudden injection of pace and an increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere, something that makes it an absolutely thrilling watch from beginning to end.
The story here isn’t quite as perfect, as the overall plot is a little predictable and simplistic from the start, but the fact that it’s a bit lighter and easier-going is something that makes it a lot more enjoyable as a thriller piece. Its subject matter – surrounding Nazi fugitives after the war – could have made for more dark drama, but given that the film was made only one year after the end of the war, its decision to stick with a familiar and passionate topic but in a lighter and more excitement-driven manner was definitely the right one, and one that I really enjoyed throughout.
In the end, my only complaint with The Stranger would be that it doesn’t quite have the depth or unpredictability to really make an impression. It’s endlessly exciting, without a doubt, but its more simplistic story means it has no chance of rivalling the true greats of the genre, which is a bit of a shame when seen in hindsight.
Overall, however, I had a lot of fun with this movie. It’s not quite perfect, but with fast-paced thrills and excitement right from the start, as well as great directing from Orson Welles, it’s really entertaining to watch throughout, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.7.