Notice we used the word “movie” instead of “film” in describing The Stranger, Orson Welles’ hit film of 1946. It grossed nearly $4 million. Huge for that time.
As for the nuances separating “films” from “movies,” Joe posits the following:
Movies are entertaining… films are an attempt at art…. If you want to send a message use western union, said Sam Goldwyn… who made movies…. Directors make films… producers make movies….sometimes films can be entertaining and money making…But movies can never be art….just movies…..don’t forget movies is the term used by the public…to bring the term Motion Pictures down to their level…..
Frank offers a more democratic explanation: Isn’t ‘film’ just a high-falutin’ word for ‘movie’?
The fact is that although The Stranger has been dismissed for decades as probably the worst movie Welles ever made, critical opinion is currently shifting in the opposite direction, offering the possibility that this crowdpleaser will be regarded as much better than it first appeared — a ‘movie’ and a ‘film’ in one package.
Frank certainly agrees with this assessment. The Stranger has long been one of Welles’ undersung gems, in his view. So much the better that it is the ONLY one of the director’s American films to wind up in its initial release in the profit category. (A status denied Citizen Kane, The Magnificent Ambersons, The Lady From Shanghai and Touch of Evil.)
All his working life in many foreign locales, Welles would say that he yearned for Hollywood quality of workmanship he once knew, reflected in the many first-rate studio technicians and professionals he worked with. Foreign crews and production teams just didn’t measure up, he lamented.
Therefore, it is safe to say the he was in his environment on The Stranger. Its producer, the infamous international rogue Sam Spiegel, was not a man to be trifled with. He was a strong producer who exerted his authority in ways that Welles disliked. Nonetheless, Spiegel kept Welles’ feet to the fire throughout, and got a good picture from him.
The pleasures of The Stranger are manifold. The saga of a bigtime Nazi spy (Welles in a pleasant, effective if slightly clunky performance) ominously landing in a small New England town and marrying the trusting schoolmaster’s daughter (Loretta Young) is nicely embellished by solid directoral touches.
There is the movie’s shadowy, film noir-ish opening; the easy cinematic transition to the small Connecticut town; the chatty, familiar performance from character actor Billy House engaging Edward G. Robinson (the government agent on the spy’s trail) in the town’s small general store. (And Robinson is especially good here.)
And not to forget The Stranger’s ending with Welles being impaled in the clocktower high above the local church. (One wonders if Alfred Hitchcock borrowed a bit of this for Vertigo.) Richard Long puts in a solid performance as Loretta Young’s devoted younger brother, and there’s Young’s performance itself — controlled and thoroughly sympathetic.
The Stranger, in Frank’s view, provided Young with one of her finest roles. See it for her performance alone. The movie didn’t do much for Welles’ directoral career one way or the other. It did demonstrate, however, that he could churn out a conventional thriller along with the best of his Hollywood peers.