Archive for the ‘The Stranger (1946)’ Category

Blu-ray Cover

Distributor: Olive Films

Release Date: August 29th, 2017

Region: Region A

Length: 01:35:16

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC)

Main Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio (48 kHz, 1978 kbps, 24-bit)

Subtitles: English

Ratio: 1.35:1

Bitrate: 25.48 Mbps

Note: Other Blu-ray editions of this title exist, and each has its own collection of strengths and weaknesses.

Title

“I wished to show people that I didn’t glow in the dark, you know. That I could say ‘action’ and ‘cut’ just like the rest of the fellows.” –Orson Welles

Welles probably did agree to direct The Stranger as a way to prove to Hollywood that he could play by their rules and bring a mainstream film in under schedule and under budget, but his claims that there is “very little” of him in the final picture is an obvious fabrication. The film is saturated with personal “in-jokes” and seems to have been built from the ground up as a Welles picture. His fingerprints are simply all over it.

Unfortunately, his attitude seems to have spilled over into Welles scholarship and criticism and this is a terrible shame. One hates to argue with an established “genius” but this is not one of his worst films. In fact, it’s one of his three or four best films. (Readers can probably guess the other three.) This tautly paced noir-esque melodrama features Welles as Franz Kindler, a Nazi who is being hunted so that he can be made to pay for his atrocious war crimes. Kindler, as it happens, is posing as Professor Charles Rankin and living in the picturesque town of Harper, Connecticut. Of course, his new wife, Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young) is clueless about her husband’s past—a past that is about to catch up with him when Mr. Wilson of the United Nations War Crimes Commission (Edward G. Robinson) closes in on the sleepy hamlet.

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The story was much better when Alfred Hitchcock made the film three years earlier as Shadow of a Doubt (it’s the same premise with a few altered details). For one thing, Joseph Cotton’s “Uncle Charley” manages to be much more charming and all the more menacing due to his dual nature—and Hitchcock manages to subtly add subtext that hints at the same “superman” mentality that is at the heart of The Stranger. This is especially true in his infamous dinner table speech… but I am digressing more than is necessary.

Welles suffered the same compromises that he always suffered (with the exception of Citizen Kane). A lengthy opening sequence was cut, Robinson was cast in a role that he had wanted Agnes Moorehead to play, and thirty-two pages were excised from Welles’ revised script (sixteen of these pages were the aforementioned opening sequence) at the suggestion of Ernest J. Nims—the film’s editor. Even so, The Stranger doesn’t seem to suffer much from these changes. It stands the test of time with its use of noir tropes, Russell Metty’s (Touch of Evil) chiaroscuro photography and the bold decision to incorporate footage of actual Nazi atrocities into its plot to moving effect. What’s more, it is the director’s biggest box-office success, and it deserves more respect than Welles and his followers have given it.

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The Presentation:

3 of 5 Stars

Olive Pictures protects their Blu-ray disc in a standard Blu-ray case with somewhat disappointing film related cover art. It would’ve been much better if they had simply utilized the film’s original one sheet design, but one assumes that they wanted to distance themselves from the HD Cinema Classics release (which contained a decidedly poor image transfer due to inferior source materials). In any case, there were still better options available to them.

Worse, the blurb on the back states that The Stranger is Orson Welles’ fourth outing as a director, which is a careless inaccuracy. It is possible that they were including Too Much Johnson, but this silent short was: a.) not completed, and b.) was shot as part of one of Welles’ stage productions. (It was to be a film within the narrative of the play.) It needs to say that it is his “third feature film as a director” just for clarity’s sake. Such issues seem rather careless and could easily be avoided given the proper care.

On a positive note, the case also contains an illustrated booklet with an essay by Dr. Jennifer Lynde Barker (author of The Aesthetics of Antifascist Film: Radical Projection) entitled “The Stranger: Murderers Among Us” and some interesting production stills—some of which might have made a superior cover with a few creative alterations.

Menu

The static menu is reasonably attractive and features music from the feature. It’s exactly what one has come to expect from a menu and is therefore intuitive to navigate.

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Picture Quality:

3.5 of 5 Stars

Most fans probably own one of the previous releases and are wondering whether this Olive Films edition is an upgrade, a downgrade, or a rehash. It can be said upfront that it isn’t a rehash of any of the previous Blu-ray releases. It is leaps and bounds better than the atrocious HD Cinema Classics release, which should be replaced immediately. However, the Kino Classics edition competes with this transfer—and some will prefer it to this new release. It just depends on each viewer’s preferences.

Some will like this new transfer’s filmic qualities. There seems to be less grin manipulation here. Other releases saw an artificially sharpened image and/or grain filtering, while this looks a bit more organic (albeit much less sharp than the earlier Kino release). It looks a bit smoother in motion too—and unlike the earlier Kino release, this disc has significantly less damage. The lack of blemishes inherent in the earlier Kino release is one of the major positive points of this newer release. However, this release seems to have been minimally cropped at the sides. There is less information on both the left and right sides of the frame. The ‘International Films’ logo at the beginning of the film has also been removed, and the end of the film cuts out at the “The End” title card (which is bound to irritate most people). This new Olive Films release also suffers in the areas of depth and clarity due to the source being utilized. These issues seem less apparent in the Kino release. Fine detail suffers a bit too, but this wasn’t an element that has been impressive in any of the film’s releases.

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Sound Quality:

4 of 5 Stars

The included 2.0 English LPCM audio track is serviceable, but one does feel that there is room for improvement. The source obviously had flaws, but few viewers will ever become distracted by these. A proper restoration would have been nice, but this is a solid representation of the source’s sound.

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Special Features:

2.5 of 5 Stars

Feature Length Audio Commentary by Nora Fiore

Nora Fiore’s scholarly commentary is more informative and insightful than many third party “scholar” commentary tracks, but less essential than those that include the actual participants. However, this was admittedly impossible. Viewers will enjoy hearing a basic history of the film’s production in any case.

Theatrical Trailer – (02:09)

Those who love vintage trailers will be pleased to learn that the film’s original theatrical trailer is included here in all its glory.

“The Stranger: Murderers Among Us”

It seems rather superfluous to include Dr. Jennifer Lynde Barker’s text based essay on the disc when it is included in the collector’s booklet but here it is again on the disc itself.

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Final Words:

It is difficult to decide whether this or the previous Kino release is the better transfer, but The Stranger is essential to cinephiles who have a high regard for the work of Orson Welles.

One Sheet

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