Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Orson Welles the actor

TCM's salute to great directors continues tonight with a night of Orson Welles' movies. I've mentioned before that I think Orson Welles is overrated as a director. That having been said, he was perfectly capable as an actor. He does quite a good job in Citizen Kane (tonight at 8:00 PM ET), for example, as well as in another movie that he directed, but which TCM is not showing tonight: The Stranger.

The scene is just after the end of World War II. Two men show up in the small town of Harper, Connecticut, each of them seemingly having a past. First is Welles, playing Professor Charles Rankin, who takes a job at the local school. He's quickly followed by Edward G. Robinson, who we later find out is a government investigator on the trail of the "Professor", on the grounds that he had committed war crimes during the recent war.

Nobody in town knows this, of course, and as so often happens on film when a stranger shows up in a small town, everybody falls for him. This includes Loretta Young, who is the daughter of the local judge. Eventually, though, her husband's secret past begins to catch up with him after a dead body is discovered, and Robinson approaches her to get the goods on her husband. What she doesn't realize is that he's nasty enough that he's willing to kill her to protect himself.

One of the set pieces in the movie is the clock in the town's church tower, which hasn't been working for years, and which Welles' character has decided to try to fix -- something which eventually gives him away, as he liked tinkering with clocks in his Nazi past, too. It offers a suitably tense, if somewhat shocking, climax.

All that having been said, everybody is quite competent here. Loretta Young is OK, even if she is a bit of a third wheel. Even though she has important things to do, the movie isn't really about her. Robinson could play almost anything (well, I don't know if I'd want to see him as the lead in a musical...) and is treading much the same ground here as he did two years earlier as the insurance fraud investigator in Double Indemnity. Welles is quite good too as the bad guy. One can't help but wonder just how difficult he was as a director (obviously, the producers hated him), and whether or not he was channeling any of that into his performances.

The Stranger has made its way to DVD, so you don't have to wait for TCM to show it.

No comments: