In a whirlwind, the film goes from a moody foreign locale to a quaint American town called Harper, but it never ceases to be a gripping film noir. Considered Orson Welles‘ weakest project thus far, The Stranger is still thoroughly enjoyable thanks to the performances of Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young and Welles himself. Much like Shadow of a Doubt, this film shows that noir thrillers can still take place in middle America, and they can be pulse-pounders all the same. Also, an evil man can easily exist in a mundane environment and still be evil.
The reason we end up in Harper of all towns has to do with an “escaped” Nazi war criminal. He was allowed to escape and investigator Mr. Wilson (Robinson) follows him. It’s an idyllic little town and one of its most respected members is professor Charles Rankin (Welles), who is soon to be wed to pretty Mary Longstreet (Young). Little does she know that he is former Nazi war criminal Franz Kindler, and he is the man the escaped Konrad Meinike is looking for. Mr. Wilson is very interested in his whereabouts too.
Meinike soon disappears but not before deterring Wilson. However, not one to shy away from his duty, Wilson soon ingratiates himself with the local people, especially the newly married Mary and her kindly family. He is eager to learn more about the professor and at first, the gentleman seems above reproach, but something lurks underneath his calm exterior. Soon the beloved family dog Red is killed, an increasingly manic Rankin confesses his predicament to his wife and conveniently leaves out a few facts. Now constantly paranoid, Mary’s life is in far more peril than she realizes, and Wilson takes all the precautions he can. The clanging of the newly refurbished clock becomes a point of major contention, and it also serves as the perfect locale for a final climatic showdown (Put aside the absurdity and just watch it).
The whole town turns out for the show and finally after getting conked on the head and nearly killed during the case, Mr. Wilson finally has time to relax. Welles is not quite as memorable as Harry Lime here but still a sophisticated villain of sorts. Likewise, Barton Keyes is a bit more memorable but Edward G. Robinson still brings his personality, iconic voice, and memorable mug to the table. Loretta Young has a radiant face and eyes like always. In other words, they do what they do. It works in making The Stranger a worthwhile thriller with the expected melodramatic music and shadowy facades of a film-noir. This is undoubtedly an oversimplification, but then again, Orson Welles needs no introduction, and he certainly does not need me to vouch for creative genius.