A Connecticut Nazi in the University!

by Jim Morgan

Aside from the comedic cameos on shows like the Muppets and the films he did deconstructing Macbeth for high school movies I have never liked the movies of Orson Welles. There! I have finally said it. I was floored by the American Film Institutes naming of Citizen Kane as the #1 movie of all time. Citizen Kane was a weird movie about a weird man done in a weird way. Welles also made a weird movie of Macbeth which only by happy accident bears any resemblance to the story the Bard wrote long ago. It only took me about fifteen minutes to turn off the Magnificent Ambersons.

Now before everyone drags out the pitchforks and tries to run me out of town on a rail, evidently the good movie-going people of America agreed with me. While Citizen Kane did manage to reach a break even point at the box office all of Welles’ movies were commercial flops…

That is except for today’s movie selection- The Stranger.

Film image from the public domain movie "The Stranger"

I had never seen this public domain movie and wasn’t really expecting to like it. As a matter of fact I was expecting to hate this movie which was directed by Mr Welles and stars him, Loretta Young and Edward G Robinson. In the movie Welles is a Nazi war criminal who escaped post-war Germany and was living under an alias in Connecticut. The alluring Loretta Young plays his new bride and Edward G Robinson plays the ineffable Mr Wilson who is a Nazi hunting agent from some agency created by the Allies to track down war criminals.

The film does start out with some out of place music and some of Welles quirky cinematography but quickly settles into a nicely made detective type movie where Mr Wilson greatest weapon is psychological warfare while he tries to catch the criminal and keep his wife safe from harm.

Welles allows himself one longish rant about German fascism in the movie. Mr Welles had been studying fascism and writing articles about it in the New York Times. Welles did not believe that fascism could be so easily vanquished and seemed to believe that fascists were lurking behind every dark corner in Europe. Welles uses his beliefs about fascism in his monologue in a fairly long rant. We really don’t mind this rant because it is so integral to the story.

The only acting in the movie that could be seen as over-the-top or campy came from Loretta Young’s character. I don’t know if it is because she’s so pretty in this picture or because the campy parts were so well done that I didn’t mind them in the least.

Edward G Robinson’s performance was up to his usual high quality. Robinson has never disappointed me in a movie and the character of Mr Wilson may be one of his better roles. Wilson does an almost impossible job of balancing his directive to catch a Nazi and caring for those that are in harm’s way from the Nazi.

I give this movie high marks. For sure it is Orson Welles best movie. I don’t want to say this is a must see, but you are for sure missing out on something special if you don’t watch this one! Perhaps the highest accolade that I can give it is to say that this movie will make it to my private archive of public domain works!

And just for kicks here is another pic of Ms Young and Mr Welles…

Image from the Public Domain movie "The Stranger"

It should come as no surprise to you by now that this public domain movie can be found at archive.org