An Early Noir Glimpse Of The Holocaust
This 1946 film "The Stranger" is the first movie in which the Holocaust plays a role. About mid-way through the movie, there is some grainy, horrifying footage of Nazi atrocities at the concentration camps. More importantly, the film centers around efforts to bring a Nazi war criminal to justice who has escaped to a small New England town.
Orson Welles directed "The Stranger" and also played the villain a mastermind of the Holocaust named Franz Kindler who is passing Charles Rankin, a history teacher in Harper, Connecticut. Edward G. Robinson plays Wilson, an official of the United States War Crimes Commission who is determined to bring Kindler to justice. Loretta Young plays the lovely, innocent, and naive Mary Longstreet, the daughter of a Supreme Court Justice. Mary has married Rankin, blissfully ignorant of his Nazi past.
As the film opens, Wilson tracks down Kindler through releasing and following one of Kindler's associates, Meineke, who has been condemned to death for his war crimes. Kindler is forced to kill Meineke and buries his body in the woods. The cool, methodical Wilson gradually learns the truth and works cunningly to capture his man by allowing Mary slowly to understand the type of man she has unwittingly married.
The film builds in suspense throughout. The apparent peacefulness of the small New England town with it checker-playing proprietor of the general store is contrasted with Nazi brutality and treachery. Welles captures the sinister nature of the war criminal while Robinson's part, which requires him to pose as a connoisseur of art, almost allows him to play himself. Loretta Young is beautiful and understands her role. The supporting cast also is effective.
The film also features shadowy noir photography throughout. It is shown to best effect in the early scenes involving the tailing of Meineke through his arrival in the Connecticut town, in the climactic final scene on an old clock tower, and in scenes between Kindler and Mary in their ornate old New England home.
The May 1, 2020 issue of "The Guardian" included a review of this film by Andrew Pulver as part of a series of under-appreciated films to watch during the pandemic. In his review, "My Streaming Gem: Why You Should Watch
The Stranger" Pulver offered an appreciation of this rare film and pointed out how the film captured the essence of film noir in its depiction of the shadows of post -WW II American life. Pulver wrote:
"The Stranger, principally, brings home the enduring theme of noir: the devastation that the second world war wreaked on the American psyche, and the silent nastiness that proliferated behind the white picket fence. (Nothing new, of course, if you were African American or First Nation.) Unearthing a war criminal as he marries into the family of a supreme court justice is a fairly uncomplicated deployment of the motif - but in these dislocated times it's a reminder that once the American establishment took exception to Nazis. Somehow that seems a long time ago."
I was glad to have the opportunity to watch "The Stranger" and to enhance my appreciation and knowledge of film noir.