30 Days of Noir #30: The Stranger (dir by Orson Welles)


“No, you must not miss the newsreels. They make a point this week no man can miss: The war has strewn the world with corpses, none of them very nice to look at. The thought of death is never pretty but the newsreels testify to the fact of quite another sort of death, quite another level of decay. This is a putrefaction of the soul, a perfect spiritual garbage. For some years now we have been calling it Fascism. The stench is unendurable.”

Those words were written in 1945 by director Orson Welles.  He was writing about the footage that had been filmed at the Nazi concentration camps during the final days of World War II.  These films not only revealed the crimes of the Third Reich but they also proved the existence of evil.  With World War II finally ended and Hitler dead, many people were eager to move on and forget about the conflict.  Many even claimed (and some continue to do to this very day) that the reports of the Nazi death camps were exaggerated.  Writing in his syndicated column for the New York Post, Welles told those doubters that the reports of the Nazi death camps were not exaggerated and that, unless people confronted the horrors of the Nazi regime by watching the newsreels and seeing for themselves, history would repeat itself.

A year later, Welles would use that documentary footage in a key scene of his 1946 film, The Stranger.  A government agent named Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) shows the footage to Mary Longstreet Rankin (Loretta Young), the daughter of a Supreme Court justice.  Wilson is hoping that, by showing her the footage, he’ll be able to convince her to help him bring a Nazi war criminal to justice.  Complicating things is that Wilson believe that the Nazi war criminal is Mary’s new husband, Professor Charles Rankin (played by Orson Welles, himself).

In this shot, the horrors of the Holocaust are literally projected onto Edward G. Robinson’s face, a reminder that is on us to prevent it from ever happening again.

Rankin’s real name is Franz Kindler.  One of the architects of the Holocaust, he escaped from Germany at the end of World War II and, after making his way through Latin America, he ended up in a small town in Connecticut.  He got a job at the local prep school, where he instructs impressionable young minds.  He also found the time to work on the town’s 300 year-old clock.

When we first see Kindler/Rankin, he’s walking out of the school and it’s obvious that all of his students love him.  Rankin has a quick smile, which he uses whenever he has to talk to Mary or any of the other townspeople.  However, that smile disappears as soon as he’s approached by another Nazi fugitive, Konrad Meinike (Konstantin Shayne).  Rankin assures Meinike that he’s merely biding his time until he can establish a Fourth Reich.  Meinike, meanwhile, announces that he’s found God and he suggests that Rankin should turn himself in.  Correctly deducing the Meinike is being followed by Wilson, Rankin promptly strangles his former collaborator and spends the rest of the movie trying to cover up his crimes.

Welles was best known for playing characters who had the potential for greatness in them but who were ultimately brought down by their own flaws.  Think about Charles Foster Kane or Harry Lime or the detective in Touch of Evil or even Falstaff in Chimes at Midnight.  The Stranger is unique as one of the few instances in which Welles played an outright villain.  Unlike Kane or Falstaff, there’s no greatness to be found in Rankin/Kindler.  He’s fooled the town into thinking that he’s a good man but, instead, he’s a soulless sociopath who is even willing to murder his wife if that’s what he has to do to protect his secret.  Franz Kindler is the Third Reich and, by having him thrive under a new name in America, Welles argues that the Nazi threat didn’t end just because Hitler killed himself in Berlin.

And that’s an important message.  It was an important message in 1946 and, I would argue, it’s an even more important message today.  Anti-Semitism is on the rise in both America and Europe, with activists on both the Left and the Right embracing the type of bigotry and conspiracy-mongering that previously allowed madmen like Adolf Hitler to come to power.  Just today, I read a story about a Jewish professor at Columbia who arrived at work on Wednesday, just to discover that someone had vandalized her office with anti-Semitic graffiti.  Watching The Stranger today, it’s important to remember that the Franz Kindlers of the world are still out there and many of them are just as good at disguising themselves as Charles Rankin as Kindler was.

The Stranger was Welles’s third completed film as a director.  It was a film that he reportedly agreed to direct in order to prove that he was capable of bring in a film on budget and ahead-of-schedule.  Because Welles was largely acting as a director-for-hire on this film, there’s a tendency to overlook The Stranger when discussing Welles’s films.  While that’s understandable, The Stranger is clearly a Welles film.  From the use of shadow to the skewed camera angles, the film has all of Welles’s visual trademarks.  Thematically, this is another one of Welles’s films about a man who is hiding a secret underneath his ordinary facade.

It’s a good film, with Welles giving an appropriately evil performance as Kindler and Loretta Young providing strong support as Mary.  That said, the film’s soul is to be found in Edward G. Robinson’s performance.  Robinson was born Emmanuel Goldenberg in Romania.  In 1904, his family fled to America after one of his brothers was attacked by an anti-Semitic mob.  As someone who had experienced anti-Semitism firsthand, Robinson brought a righteous fury to the role of Mr. Wilson.  Wilson isn’t just pursuing a fugitive in The Stranger.  Instead, he’s seeking justice for the six million Jews who were murdered by men like Franz Kindler.

The Stranger is an important film and it seems like the right film with which to end my 30 Days of Noir.  Noirvember is ending and so ends our 30-day walk through the shadowy streets of noir cinema.

2015 in Review: Lisa’s Picks For The 16 Worst Films Of The Year


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There’s always a little bit of risk involved in making a list of the 16 worst films of the year.  People take movies very seriously and, often times, the crappiest of films will have very passionate (and very ignorant) defenders.  I was reminded of this in November when I wrote my review of The Leisure Class and I discovered that there actually are a few misguided dumbfug toadsuckers who actually enjoyed that movie.

But you know what?  Even with that risk, I always enjoy making out my worst-of-the-year list.  Let’s be honest: stupid people tend to like stupid movies.  And it’s important to point out that stupidity.  Only by pointing it out can we hope to defeat it.  I’m sure that some people will disagree with some of my picks.  After all, people initially disagreed with me when I announced that Man of Steel was the worst film of 2013. However, just 2 years later, most people now realize that I was right.  There were also people who insisted, in 2011, that Another Earth was a great movie.  Again, they now realize that they were wrong and I was right.

So, with all that in mind, here are my picks for the 16 worst films of 2015!  For the most part, 2015 was a pretty good year for cinema.  However, there were still a number of terrible films released and here’s 16 of them.

(Why 16?  Because Lisa doesn’t do odd numbers!)

16) Stockholm, Pennsylvania (dir by Nicholas Beckwith)

15) Aloha (dir by Cameron Crowe)

14) The Lazarus Effect (dir by David Gelb)

13) The Woman In Black 2: The Angel of Death (dir by Tom Harper)

12) The Stranger (dir by Guillermo Amoedo)

11) Get Hard (dir by Etan Coen)

10) Fantastic Four (dir by Josh Trank)

9) War Room (dir by Alex Kendrick)

8) Tommorrowland (dir by Brad Bird)

7) Jenny’s Wedding (dir by Mary Agnes Donoghue)

6) The Gallows (dir by Craig Lofing and Travis Cluff)

5) Tooken (dir by John Asher)

4) The Last House on Cemetery Lane (dir by Andrew Jones)

3) Vacation (dir by Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley)

2) The Leisure Class (dir by Jason Mann)

And finally, it’s time to name the worst film of 2015!

And the winner is….

1) Ted 2 (dir by Seth McFarlane)

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(Feel free to also check out my picks for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014!)

Agree?  Disagree?  Leave a comment and let us know!  And if you disagree, please let me know what movie you think was worse than Ted 2!

Tomorrow, I will be posting my 10 favorite songs of 2015!

Previous Entries In The Best of 2015:

  1. Valerie Troutman’s 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I Saw in 2015
  2. Necromoonyeti’s Top 15 Metal Albums of 2015
  3. 2015 In Review: The Best of SyFy
  4. 2015 in Review: The Best of Lifetime

Film Review: The Stranger (dir by Guillermo Amoedo)


the-stranger-posterMeh.

Who cares?

That was my main reaction to watching The Stranger, a film from Chile that, for some reason, is set in Canada.  (There’s absolutely nothing about the film that brings to mind Canada.  The film was obviously shot in South America and almost all of the actors are Chilean.  And, just in case you forget, they’ve all been badly dubbed.)  The Stranger is full of atmosphere and it does attempt to do something new with the vampire genre so I guess we should give it some credit for that…

No, sorry.

Can’t do it.

Listen, I love horror movies.  I think that some of the most interesting films being made today are coming out of the South American film scene.  And, in the past, I’ve even defended Eli Roth, who is credited as being one of the producers on this film.  But I’m sorry — The Stranger is an incredibly boring and unpleasant film.

And yes, I fully realize that the best horror films are meant to be nightmarish and, as a result, somewhat unpleasant to watch.  However, there’s a difference between the stylized violence of a good giallo and the relentless sadism of The Stranger.  There’s no real point or style to the overbearing violence and gore in The Stranger and, as a result, it gets pretty boring after just a few minutes.

Of course, another huge difference between good horror and The Stranger is that The Stranger takes itself way too seriously.  Again to return to the Italian horror comparison, the best giallo films always featured quirky characters, clever dialogue, and plot twists that took us by surprise.  They were exercises in pure style that celebrated cinematic excess.  The Stranger is so somber and grim and serious that it all becomes a bit tedious to deal with.

Also, an innocent black cat is brutally murdered about 30 minutes into a film.  Then, towards the end of the film a dog is similarly attacked and left to die in the desert.  And you really don’t get the feeling that there was any reason for these scenes, beyond the fact that the director needed to keep up with his onscreen death quota..  If you’re going to portray an innocent animal being killed by your hero, at least make sure it’s absolutely necessary to the plot.  Otherwise, it just comes across as pointless sadism.

Anyway, the movie itself is about a stranger (Christobal Tapia Montt), who shows up in what we’re told in a small Canadian town.  He’s looking for his runaway wife, who he discovers has subsequently died.  The man has secrets of his own, of course.  He hates the sunlight.  He apparently cannot be killed by ordinary methods.  His blood can heal others but it also tends to transform them into being blood-thirsty monsters.  Yes, the man is obviously a vampire but the film never comes out and admits that.

There’s all sorts of small town intrigue going on but I’m not going to talk about it because it was tedious enough just trying to watch it.  Ultimately, the whole film is basically just a collection of scenes of people threatening the stranger, the stranger looking somber, and then people threatening each other.  None of the actors are particularly memorable and very few of them speak in their own voices.  One gets the feeling that the Chilean cast could not sound properly Canadian and so a bunch of American actors were hired to overdub everyone’s dialogue.  (I say American because I heard many regional American accents but not a single Canadian one.  All of this again makes you wonder why this film was set in Canada as opposed to some place like maybe Chile.)  The dubbing is atrocious, with the voices rarely matching either the facial expressions or the body language of the original actors.

This movie is a total mess.  Sorry, Eli.  I still think that the Hostel films have a lot more to say about America’s place in the world than most people are willing to admit but ultimately, The Stranger is a disappointment.