The Stranger

USA 1946, 95 mins
Director: Orson Welles

SPOILER WARNING The following notes give away the film’s ending.

The ugly duckling of Orson Welles’ wayward career, The Stranger was the director’s attempt to prove to increasingly sceptical paymasters that he could tackle something conventional if he really put his mind to it (though he then made The Lady from Shanghai, and burned his Hollywood bridges almost for good). Although minor Welles almost by definition, it’s nonetheless a very watchable thriller about wanted Holocaust architect Franz Kindler (Welles) pursued by a proto-Simon Wiesenthal (Edward G. Robinson) in small-town America.

Welles handles the suspense mechanics with appropriate brio, the clocktower climax being especially effective, but he also scores points for neither caricaturing the subject of Nazism (the film was shot and released while the main Nuremberg trials were still in session), nor making its Nazi an obvious Peter Lorre-style grotesque. Indeed, Welles’ performance is worryingly charismatic, though he lays his cards firmly on the table when he accidentally outs himself as an antisemite during a postprandial chat.
Michael Brooke, Sight & Sound, October 2009

A contemporary review
The Stranger, to which the critics looked forward because Orson Welles once directed two remarkable films, is no successor to those earlier achievements, though it contains many technical points of presentation which remind one of them. The Stranger is good, but not excellent, thriller entertainment, in the same class as Journey into Fear. Welles himself plays magnificently a German war criminal who has escaped incognito to an American small town where he has become a college teacher. A minor war criminal is loosed to act as a decoy by Edward G. Robinson, who plays an investigator concerned to find the whereabouts of the major offender. The earlier scenes are beautifully done: the small-town setting is alive and vivid, and the character of the shop-keeper who works a ‘self-serve’ store is himself the best piece of cinema in the film.

The Stranger is full of fine touches of melodrama, for example the attempted murder in the deserted gymnasium, or the strained walk through the woods ending in the murder of the decoy, but in the end we come back to the many, almost choric, scenes in the shop which fix the film’s terrors into a frame of reality that sharply sets them off. This is the technical trick of Hitchcock which used to work so well during his period of British melodramas. For all his extravagance, Hitchcock knew where to stop straining our credulity. The Stranger soon outpaced mine. Considering the lone detective possesses every proof of the Nazi’s identity and guilt, it seems incredible he should be left at large to be a danger to innocent people and to come to so destructive an end on the melodramatically designed Gothic bell tower which fascinates him at odd hours of the night, and end by impaling his terror-stricken body on one of its medieval mechanical figures.
Sight and Sound, Autumn 1946

Direction: Orson Welles
©: Haig Corporation
Production Company: International Pictures Corporation
Produced by: S.P. Eagle
Assistant Director: Jack Voglin
Dialogue Director: Gladys Hill
Screen Play by: Anthony Veiller
Adaptation by: Victor Trivas, Decla Dunning
Original story by: Victor Trivas
Director of Photography: Russell Metty
Film Editor: Ernest Nims
Production Design: Perry Ferguson
Make-up: Bob Cowan
Music: Bronislaw Kaper
Sound: Corson Jowett, Arthur Johns

Screenplay: John Huston, Orson Welles
Camera Operator: John L. Russell
Costumes: Thomas Woulfe
Orchestration: Harold Byrns, Sidney Cutner
Music Mixer: Paul Neal

Edward G. Robinson (Inspector Wilson)
Loretta Young (Mary Longstreet)
Orson Welles (Franz Kindler alias Charles Rankin)
Philip Merivale (Judge Longstreet)
Richard Long (Noah Longstreet)
Konstantin Shayne (Konrad Meinike)
Byron Keith (Dr Jeffrey Lawrence)
Billy House (Mr Potter)
Martha Wentworth (Sara)

Isabel O’Madigan (Mrs Lawrence)
Pietro Sosso (Mr Peabody)
Theodore Gottlieb (Farbright)
Johnny Sands (student)

USA 1946©
95 mins

With a pre-recorded introduction by film critic Farran Smith Nehme (Wed 1 Sep only)

The Stranger
Wed 1 Sep 18:00 (+ pre-recorded intro by film critic Farran Smith Nehme); Fri 17 Sep 21:00; Fri 1 Oct 14:30
Detective Story
Thu 2 Sep 18:00; Fri 24 Sep 18:00; Sun 3 Oct 12:10
Double Indemnity
Thu 2 Sep 14:45; Sun 12 Sep 15:00; Wed 29 Sep 17:45 (+ intro by Lucy Bolton, Queen Mary University of London); Sat 2 Oct 20:50
Call Northside 777
Fri 3 Sep 20:40; Thu 9 Sep 14:30; Tue 14 Sep 17:50; Mon 20 Sep 17:50
The Hound of the Baskervilles
Sat 4 Sep 15:15; Thu 30 Sep 18:15
Cry of the City
Sun 5 Sep 18:10; Thu 9 Sep 18:10; Sat 18 Sep 21:00; Tue 21 Sep 14:45
The Undercover Man
Mon 6 Sep 18:10; Thu 23 Sep 14:45; Sun 26 Sep 12:00
The Big Sleep
Tue 7 Sep 20:45; Sun 19 Sep 11:00; Mon 4 Oct 17:45
Wed 8 Sep 18:10 (+ intro by Geoff Andrew, Programmer-at-Large); Thu 16 Sep 14:30; Tue 21 Sep 21:00; Fri 1 Oct 20:50
The Third Man
Wed 8 Sep 21:00; Fri 10 Sep 14:30; Tue 14 Sep 20:50; Sat 2 Oct 11:30
Rear Window
Thu 9 Sep 20:45; Wed 15 Sep 17:20 (+ pre-recorded intro by Geoff Andrew, Programmer-at-Large); Sat 25 Sep 11:30; Tue 28 Sep 20:45; Tue 5 Oct 14:30
The Big Heat
Sat 11 Sep 14:30; Mon 13 Sep 21:00; Wed 22 Sep 18:00 (+ intro by Simran Hans, writer and film critic for ‘The Observer’); Mon 27 Sep 17:50
Philosophical Screens: Temptation and Coincidence in ‘Double Indemnity’
Wed 29 Sep 20:00 Blue Room

Welcome to the home of great film and TV, with three cinemas and a studio, a world-class library, regular exhibitions and a pioneering Mediatheque with 1000s of free titles for you to explore. Browse special-edition merchandise in the BFI Shop.We're also pleased to offer you a unique new space, the BFI Riverfront – with unrivalled riverside views of Waterloo Bridge and beyond, a delicious seasonal menu, plus a stylish balcony bar for cocktails or special events. Come and enjoy a pre-cinema dinner or a drink on the balcony as the sun goes down.

Enjoy a great package of film benefits including priority booking at BFI Southbank and BFI Festivals. Join today at

We are always open online on BFI Player where you can watch the best new, cult & classic cinema on demand. Showcasing hand-picked landmark British and independent titles, films are available to watch in three distinct ways: Subscription, Rentals & Free to view.

See something different today on

Join the BFI mailing list for regular programme updates. Not yet registered? Create a new account at

Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
Questions/comments? Contact the Programme Notes team by email