The Stranger (1946) is Orson Welles’ first film noir and also the first Hollywood movie with documentary footage of the Holocaust. Franz Kindler (Orson Welles) is a Nazi fugitive hiding under a new identity as Charles Rankin, a school teacher in a small town in Connecticut. He weds the innocent and naive Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), who has no idea her husband is the mastermind behind the Holocaust. Meanwhile, Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson), an investigator for the War Crimes Commission, comes to town to smoke out Kindler (Kindler has destroyed all evidence linking him to his Nazi past). At times painfully melodramatic, a cat and mouse game ensues, all the way to the bitter end.
And the end is the best part, a shadowy, cold scene set way up in a church belfry, made more claustrophobic by a massive dangling bell and the menacing gears and sprockets of the tower’s Gothic clock, and accessible only by a long frail ladder. Here we get a strong sense of doomful enclosure, which is so iconic to the genre. Welles’ acting is dreadful, but Young’s many nuanced facial expressions somehow make up for it. Other parts that stick out include the poisoned dog scene, creepy noir trees, unsettling extreme close-ups of Welles’ face, and a really bizarre low angle shot taken from a pond (as if from the perspective of a prying catfish).