I saw this earlier this month on Netflix and surprisingly it was my first watch of this perhaps overlooked entry in Welles' directorial canon. The Stranger was his third film in the director's chair, made four years after The Magnificent Ambersons. Determined to prove that he could be relied upon to turn in a picture that was both under budget and on time, Welles accepted a rather unfavourable contract from International Pictures that stipulated that he would not only defer to the studio at all times but that he would owe them any wages he may incur above $50,000 per year should he renege on the deal. He was paid $2,000 per week to both act and helm the picture.
The Stranger is a noirish melodrama that sees Welles star as Franz Kindler, a Nazi-in-hiding in the sleepy, autumnal New England town of Harper. Determined to appear as a pillar of the community, Kindler adopts the guise of Charles Rankin, a prep school teacher engaged to marry Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young) the daughter of a supreme court justice official played by Philip Merivale. Arriving in Harper is Nazi hunter Mr Wilson, Edward G. Robinson, who has his suspicions about the seemingly innocuous Rankin.
Ostensibly a genre picture, The Stranger does nevertheless have many Wellesian touches that mark it out as something subtly special. Welles insisted on long takes to blindside editor Ernest J. Nims. This approach allowed him to sneak through a four minute-long take between Kindler and his hapless fellow Nazi fugitive Meinike (Konstantin Shayne) in the woods. It passes by almost unnoticed - and it clearly did for 'supercutter' Nims too - which is surprising when you consider that it's longer than A Touch Of Evil's much vaunted opening sequence. Welles also deploys his usual flourishes of shadows and angles, whilst the decision to include genuine documentary footage of the Holocaust marked it out not only as a distinctive first for Hollywood, but also yet another of Welles' preoccupations; the notion of a film within a film. Welles personally fought to keep this footage in, arguing that it was their duty to inform the world what had truly happened in Nazi Germany.
One other thing marks The Stranger out as a Welles production and that's his decision to use Citizen Kane's production designer, Perry Ferguson. The sets he created are nothing short of brilliant, including a complete town square that can be overlooked from the drug store owned by the checkers enthusiast - and the film's comic relief - Mr Potter (Billy House). At a time when genre pictures looked studiobound and cheap, Ferguson's work gives an authenticity and depth that sets it apart from its contemporaries and again, Welles' use of long takes, ensures that he gets the most from what Ferguson created.
On the whole The Stranger is a satisfying mix of genre and auteur that is reminiscent of Hitchcock, and I'm glad I finally got around to seeing it.