Despite being dominated by Orson Welles and Edward G. Robinson’s on-screen presence, The Stranger is what it is because of Loretta Young. She’s married to Welles’ character, a college professor named Charles Rankin. He hides a secret, something so utterly devastating and inhumane, her life will turn.
Young is in love though, her feelings for her husband even after learning the truth jumping from denial, to paranoia, to outright terror. It’s a performance aided by fantastic range, a character caught in the middle of something she can barely comprehend. Her realization is the audience’s realization, even the viewer doesn’t share the same sympathy.
The Stranger is dominated by shadows, giving the actors a larger-than-life appearance, and the film a firm classical style. It makes conversations richer, and the romance deeper. Sitting in a church, Young is held by Welles, the backlighting creating a dramatic flair in this pivotal turning point.
Welles found the film to be his least favorite work (he directed as well), and that’s a shame. This is an excellent piece of thriller cinema, the weight of the situation never lost, and the use of actual war crimes footage was unheard of for the time. While the ending may turn out unnecessarily hokey, the result foreshadowed to near ludicrous levels and it’s an all-around weak attempt at being ironic, the build-up is exquisite.
It’s intelligent too, a deeply involved dinner conversation as Welles stares down Robinson, the professor detailing his beliefs in the German people. Robinson is employed by the War Crimes Commission, eager to extract the necessary information as to who Welles truly is. Both have a sense of each others identities, but there’s this air of uncertainty in the room. The dialogue is beautifully crafted and delivered with force, a high point of Stranger’s growing complexities and involvement. Stranger only gets stronger from there. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]
Film Chest releases this Welles’ classic concurrently with Kansas City Confidential, and both share the same problems. The Stranger’s so-called restoration has more to do with removing grain, boosting contrast, and crushing the blacks than anything else. To its minuscule credit, nearly all damage has been removed from the frame, not difficult when you’re simply wiping the slate clean though.
Whatever detail was present in Film Chest’s 35mm print is long gone. The AVC encode is fine short of some minimal banding. The bitrate is acceptable, and it doesn’t have to handle anything complex. Sharpness and clarity loss are purely the result of heavy handed DNR, giving the actors a muddy, processed appearance. Subtle movements create obvious smearing, the worst of it during a Welles’ close-up at 45:59.
A secondary culprit is the contrast boost, eliminating the discussion of gray scale because this digital presentation of The Stranger no longer has one. It exists in two shades: overbearing whites and crushing blacks. Outdoors, indoors, or even in limited light, the contrast finds a way to appear blotchy along with a faint glow to almost everything. Dark suits become singular objects, making arms lost to the unbearable crush. There are times where there is literal separation between white and black without an ounce of any other shade present.
The only thing missing from Kansas City Confidential is a light digital grain/noise over the image. That hasn’t even been attempted here, but since Stranger looks even worse, that would only be another strike against it. There’s nothing even resembling grain here, yet the restoration comparison on the disc shows some. Who woulda thunk it? [xrr rating=2/5 label=Video]
Film Chest compresses the audio into two flavors: 5.1 and 2.0. Mercifully, the stupid choices made to beef up the 5.1 audio in Kansas City are not present here, or at least not to the same extent. The worst of it comes around 38:30 as some bird chirps unnaturally into the rears.
A great score marginally pushes into the surrounds, but remains focused in the stereo channels. It’s muddy and completely devoid of range, although free of any outstanding distortion. Dialogue lacks the same clarity, backed by extensive static and some random popping. There are no drop-outs or faded lines.
The stereo mix is far weaker than the supposedly restored 5.1, lacking any precision in the dialogue presentation. Damage remains either way. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Audio]
The above-mentioned restoration comparison and a trailer are the extras. [xrr rating=1/5 label=Extras]
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