Close Up

16 January 2018: The Stranger


The Stranger
Orson Welles
1946 | 95 min | B/W | Digital

“No more than two minutes into Welles’ alleged Hollywood sellout project, bulging eyes lunge toward the camera, a voice beckoning ominously from the shadows: “I am traveling for my health.” The Stranger’s unflattering reputation as a bland for-hire quickie after the one-two punch of Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons is complicated quickly by the film itself, which channels every spare minute not spent depositing exposition into nervous expressionistic formal play: a tense murder scene plays out in a long panning shot framing characters against a dense backdrop of tree branches; dinner party conversations unfold as extreme close-up sparring matches; and a climactic clock-tower showdown is cut up into shadowy fragments that portend the famous mirrored set piece from The Lady from Shanghai. Welles, onscreen as an escaped Goebbels proxy pursued by a relentless investigator of Nazi war criminals, auditions the doom-laden eloquence of his later villain Harry Lime (from The Third Man) and winds up with a chilling example of the kind of sophistication that can easily fool the American middle-class into naïve complacency.” – Harvard Film Archive

Part of our Orson Welles retrospective