The Stranger is a compelling movie which holds up well after 70 years, and while not noted on anyone’s list of 100 best films, should not be overlooked.
Years ago when Joe co-authored a biography of Loretta Young he interviewed Tom Lewis, Young’s former husband. They had been married in 1940 and had two young sons, and Loretta had promised to give up her career to raise their children.
But the war had intervened and after the war Loretta and Tom agreed that if she were to continue working it must be with a goal. To make better films, and shoot for critical acclaim (think Oscar). She signed with International Pictures, and made Along Came Jones opposite Gary Cooper, which Cooper produced. It was several notches above the programmers she’d been making.
Then Loretta was cast in The Stranger, to be produced by the infamous S.P. Eagle (Sam Spiegel). There was much discussion as to who would direct. Spiegel wanted John Huston, but he was in the Army.
It was decided to give Orson Welles (pictured above with Loretta) a chance to prove he could direct AND stay within budget and on schedule. Contract negotiations had been fierce but were eventually ironed out. Welles was given some creative control, but though he wanted to cast Agnes Moorehead as the agent hunting Nazi war criminal, Franz Kindler, the studio insisted on Edward G. Robinson.
Orson would portray Kindler himself. Elaborate sets were constructed to re-create a small town in Connecticut. And production began. Loretta (and Tom) considered it a step in the right direction for her career. They both admired Welles’ previous work.
Welles told a story about Young’s support in a dispute with Spiegel. The producer wanted a closeup of Loretta when Welles wanted a medium-full shot when her character is fighting with Kindler.
Orson told Loretta a close up would be “fatal” and she declared, “Well then, we’re not going to make it.” Spiegel insisted on the closeup so Loretta called in her agent. Years later Welles loved saying, “Imagine getting a star’s agent in to ensure that she wouldn’t get a closeup!”
In Joe’s opinion The Stranger is Young’s best performance, and probably why she won the Oscar a year later for a rather standard turn in The Farmer’s Daughter.
Tomorrow Frank will analyze The Stranger from the perspective of Welles’ career.