Tuesday, May 05, 2015

"But Marx wasn't a German, Marx was a Jew." - Professor Charles Rankin in "The Stranger"

Orson Welles' "The Stranger"  reminded me of Hitchcock's "Shadow of a doubt". But do not mistake them for being alike. They use very different formats to enthrall the audience. While "Shadow of a doubt" revels in oscillating between the truth and doubt, The Stranger focuses on nothing but the truth. There in lies the beauty of this film.

How can a movie still hold any intrigue and aura if the secret is revealed in the first half of the film? How can you hold your breath in anticipation when you know what you are looking for? But you do. Orson Welles creates that sense of suspense right from the opening scene where a Nazi prisoner,Meinike, is set free. The hope is that Meinike would lead Mr.Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) ,of the United Nations War Crimes Commission, to a dangerous mastermind Nazi criminal,Franz Kindler. 

Meinike leads Mr.Wilson to a small town in Connecticut, Harper. But before Mr.Wilson can find out Franz, Meinike is killed. Mr.Wilson stays back in Harper to reveal the true identity of the hidden criminal. 

Professor Charles Rankin is a local school teacher who marries the supreme court justice's daughter Mary (Loretta Young). There is an interesting conversation between Mr.Wilson and the professor. The professor believes that " people cannot be reformed except from within. The basic principles of equality and freedom never have and never will take root in Germany. The will to freedom has been voiced in every other tongue. "All men are created equal", liberte, egalite, fraternite - but in German..."
Mary's brother remarks " There's Marx. "Proletarians, unite. You have nothing to lose but your chains." to which the professor replies "But Marx wasn't a German, Marx was a Jew." 

This confirms his identity to Mr.Wilson but he has no proof. Only if Mary confesses that she had seen Meinike the morning of their wedding, the professor can be persecuted. In spite of being shown the atrocities of the genocide, Mary refuses to believe that her husband is a criminal. She is torn between her love and her belief that she cannot fall in love with a criminal. 

Every step of the way, we are shown the truth, the truth is shouted from roof tops but what would Mary do? Would she turn her husband in or live in the hope of reforming him? Would Franz Kindler win this battle between the innocent and the conniving?  Would Mary's family and the Harper town people know the true identity of an innocent teacher? 

Watch another of Orson Welles' great movies where you get a good dose of closeups, play with shadows and light as well a slickly edited action-packed climax that makes you wonder why modern day film-makers do not learn such techniques.