Orson Welles had a notorious time trying to make movies. The studio system hated him and after Citizen Kane and the massive fight Welles had during The Magnificent Ambersons he found it tough to make a movie. In fact by the time he made The Stranger in 1946, it had four years between productions.
Welles compromised in order to get work and he agreed to let the studio have final cut on The Stranger. He also guaranteed that he would make the film on time and on budget, which he did. The movie also became Welles’ biggest blockbuster hit at the time.
Set right after WWII, Edward G. Robinson is a Nazi hunter and he’s on the trial of a vicious evil man named Franz Kindler (played by Welles). Kindler has disappeared off the face of the planet so Robinson releases a former associate of Kindler, Meinike, in the hopes that it will lead Robinson to Kindler.
Meinike eventual leads Robinson to the small American town of Harper, Connecticut, where Kindler has become Professor Charles Rankin, teacher and husband to the unassuming Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young). Robinson misses Meinike meeting with Rankin and when the two ex-Nazis do meet, Rankin murders Meinike to keep his secret. Robinson soon deducts that Rankin is Kindler but he has no proof. Soon a game of cat and mouse begins.
The studio made sure that the movie was a standard thriller and went out their way to make sure that Welles didn’t try to make the movie into anything more than a that. Welles’ usual character development and style was cut out and subdued before anything was shot as was a thrilling chase through Central America at the start of the film. The final results are still a strong stylish film, maybe not as great as it good have a been (as with so many of Welles’ studio movies) but still a great film. It’s also kind of cool that Welles wanted to tackle the Nazi atrocities so quickly after the war was over. He even included actual footage of the concentration camps. The film fell into public domain so there are a hundred crappy looking copies of the film available but both MGM and Kino have released excellent restored versions of the movie on DVD and Blu-ray respectively.