Monday, December 30, 2013

Quick Takes on the Current OSCAR® Bait



August: Osage County (2013) ✭✭✭✭



Southern gothic chamber piece, complete with family dysfunction, bitter recriminations, suicide, incest and, worst of all, occasional over emoting. Set on the airless plains of Oklahoma during a heat wave, Tracy Letts’ script - based on his Pulitzer winning play - owes much to the shades of Tennessee Williams and Faulkner, with a dose of Ken Kesey thrown into the mix. Nominated by SAG and the Golden Globes, with surely more noms to come, “August: Osage County” boasts an impressive collection of actors, with Meryl Steep, Julia Roberts, Chris Cooper, Sam Shepard, Ewan McGregor and Juliette Lewis among the long list of notables. In fact, the film’s first half often feels like a sort of All-Star Game for thespians, with each scene adding a new famous face to the proceedings. You can almost hear a PA announcer: “Now batting...Benedict Cumberbatch.”

The story follows a familiar path for these types of dramas, as pill-popping matriarch Meryl - now facing a serious illness - has wrenching knock down drag out arguments with her daughters, in-laws and grandchildren, all of whom she has emotionally damaged in some way. Despite its predictability, the film is well paced and offers several rewarding scenes. Billed as a drama/comedy, overall August: Osage County could have used a bit more of the latter. However, It does have one laugh out loud line: “Ivy, you can’t move to New York. You’re almost 50 years old. You’ll break a hip."









Enough Said (2013) ✭✭✭ 1/2




Perfectly serviceable rom-com, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener who has worked on some of the best TV shows around. Here we find Julia Louis-Dreyfuss as a mobile masseuse in LA, whose floundering love life takes a turn for the better when she meets a fellow divorcee (James Gandolfini). Their budding romance appears to be on the right track until Louis-Dreyfuss receives some inside information about her new boyfriend from an unexpected source (Catherine Keener).

Holofcener has obviously made the rounds of LA's singles scene, and many details here have the ring of authenticity. She keeps the proceedings light and agreeable, even through the inevitable romantic rough patches. The film has received Golden Globe and SAG noms chiefly, I suspect, out of deference to Gandolfini's memory. And that memory makes Enough Said something of a bittersweet experience; the realization that an enormous talent was taken from us way too soon.


American Hustle (2013) ✭✭




Lots of sloppiness in this movie, which tries to make a feel-good story out of the whole ABSCAM mess. Confusing writing, slip-shod directing…Christian Bale, Louis CK and Jeremy Renner were the only ones who seem to have a handle on their characters. I know it's heresey to be the least bit critical of Jennifer Lawrence, but her accent is all over the place. Bradley Cooper is so madly in love with himself it's just plain nauseating. I thought the damn thing would never end. David O. Russell is not good.

Friday, December 20, 2013

TCM for January, 2014



TCM kicks off the new year with a batch of interesting obscurities and meat-and-potato classics. Below are my picks. All times Eastern. FULL SCHEDULE HERE.

1/6

9:30 PM
A man's investigation of a friend's death uncovers corruption in post-World War II Vienna.
BW-104 mins, TV-14, CC,

The Third Man. And quit calling it "an Orson Welles film."

1/7

8:45 AM
A newspaperman tracks a runaway heiress on a madcap cross-country tour.
BW-105 mins, TV-PG, CC,

8:00 PM
A young stevedore takes on the mobster who rules the docks.
BW-108 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format

3:45 AM
A proper British butler sacrifices happiness to remain faithful to his position.
C-134 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format

1/9

8:00 PM
Guests at a posh Berlin hotel struggle through scandal and heartache.
BW-113 mins, TV-PG, CC,


You'll never forget Solaris.

1/10

3:00 AM
An alien intelligence infiltrates a space mission.
C-167 mins, TV-14, Letterbox Format


1/12

2:00 AM
This film concentrates on two hours in the life of a French singer waiting on the results of a cancer test.
C-89 mins, TV-14, Letterbox Format

3:45 AM
A young woman turns to prostitution to pay the rent.
BW-83 mins, TV-14,


1/14

8:00 PM
A malicious student tries to destroy the teachers at a girls' school.
BW-108 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format

10:00 PM
A one-armed veteran uncovers small-town secrets when he tries to visit an Asian-American war hero's family.
C-82 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format


12 Angry Men. Henry Fonda at his best.

1/15

2:30 AM
A jury holdout tries to convince his colleagues to vote not guilty.
BW-96 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format

1/18

3:45 AM
LSD almost ruins the life of a former actress and her stepdaughter.
C-98 mins, TV-MA, Letterbox Format

5:30 AM
In this educational short film produced by Sid Davis, the dangers of marijuana are outlined.

C-21 mins, TV-14,


1/19

10:00 PM
A young progressive nun creates headaches for the Mother Superior.
C-94 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format


2:00 AM
An angel of death gives up his wings for love.
C-128 mins, TV-MA, Letterbox Format


Lilies of the Field. Don't touch Sydney's stuff.


1/20

4:15 PM
An itinerant handyman in the Southwest gets a new outlook on life when he helps a group of German nuns build a chapel.
BW-95 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format


6:00 PM
A black police detective from the North forces a bigoted Southern sheriff to accept his help with a murder investigation.
C-110 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format

1/24

3:15 AM
A rock star's personal appearance turns a small town into a disaster area.
C-112 mins, TV-G, CC, Letterbox Format

More Hank in Welcome to Hard Times.

1/25

2:00 PM
A broken-down sheriff tries to help his town stand against a mysterious outlaw.
C-103 mins, TV-PG, Letterbox Format

4:00 PM
An aging Robin Hood comes home to resume his relationship with Maid Marian and his battles against the Sheriff of Nottingham.
C-107 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format

6:00 PM
The legendary bank robbers run riot in the South of the 1930s.
C-111 mins, TV-14, CC, Letterbox Format

8:00 PM
The sheriff of an island town takes to the seas when a bloodthirsty shark invades the local waters.
C-124 mins, TV-MA, CC, Letterbox Format


10:15 PM
The crew of a broken down space ship accidentally picks up a deadly alien life form.
C-117 mins, TV-MA, CC, Letterbox Format


Closely Watched Trains proves the Czechs had a New Wave too.


1/26

2:00 AM
A bumbling railroad dispatcher joins the resistance in World War II to impress the girls.
C-93 mins, TV-14,

1/29

6:15 PM
A mysterious inventor passes off an animated doll as his daughter.
C-94 mins, TV-G, CC, Letterbox Format

8:00 PM
A Korean War hero doesn't realize he's been programmed to kill by the enemy.
BW-127 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format

4:15 AM
At the turn of the century exploited textile factory workers fight for better working conditions.
BW-130 mins, TV-MA, Letterbox Format


The Men from U.N.C.L.E. are back in The Karate Killers.


1/30

3:45 AM
The men from U.N.C.L.E. fight off karate-chopping henchmen to track down a secret formula.
C-93 mins, TV-PG,



5:30 AM
A progressive psychiatrist clashes with the conservative head nurse at a state institution.
BW-98 mins, TV-PG, CC, Letterbox Format


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Tweeting My Junk: Holiday Edition

Last year I tweeted pictures of my massive junk and so many people were turned on I decided to give it another go. Here's some junk I've gotten as presents over the years...

Palm Pilot…Now that's some seriously expensive junk. They don't make junk like this anymore.



Rubik's Cube: After months of trying, I accidentally solved it one day while watching television. Haven't played with that junk in over 30 years.




Acid-Wash Jeans: I guess this junk is fashionable again. Why would you want to cover your junk with junk that looks like someone threw up on it?




Self explanatory junk




Bread Machine: The holy grail of junk. I got one for Christmas a long time ago, used it once and realized it was easier and cheaper to buy bread at the store.





Casio Keytar: I actually asked for this junk.




Model Ship: A fine example of junk. Never built it. I don't even like ships.




Leisure Suit: This junk has been packed in a box since the 1970s. 
Wore it once. It was dark brown.  
I literally looked like merde

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Downfall Abbey: Rebecca on Blu-ray (1940)****1/2

The great Joan Fontaine passed away December 15, 2013 at the age of 96. We humbly offer this review from March, 2012 in tribute.



Winner of the Oscar for best picture in 1941, Rebecca was  director Alfred Hitchcock’s first Hollywood film. It also continued  producer David O. Selznick’s amazing hot streak, coming on the heels of his Oscar win for Gone with the Wind in 1940. The two films cemented Selznick’s reputation as the world’s leading purveyor of gothic chick flicks, while Rebecca proved that Hitchcock, already considered Britain’s top director, could function just fine on American soil. Gone with the Wind and Rebecca  nearly shared another key similarity. Selznick had penciled in Vivian  Leigh to star in both pictures, but changed his mind after filming the  Civil War epic. Officially, Sleznick’s reason was fear of over-exposing  Leigh due to Gone with the Wind’s tremendous success. But in truth, Hitchcock strongly preferred another actress; a pretty young  starlet from Santa Clara County - whose early career had been so  disappointing she’d recently been fired by RKO - named Joan Fontaine.


Based on Daphne du Maurier's breathless bodice ripper, Rebecca is the type of film that’s difficult to take seriously today, steeped in the passions and privileges of a refined world that no longer  exists. But to the audience of 1940, with conflicts in Europe and Asia threatening to engulf the entire planet, this tale of tortured gentry was a welcome escape. Over the years the film has remained a popular  property, enjoying a theatrical re-release in 2006 in the UK and there are reports of a remake in the pipeline from DreamWorks. Hitchcock aficionados generally consider Rebecca among the director’s finest achievements, complete with unforgettable imagery, superb  performances and a hypnotic, foreboding atmosphere. In addition, Rebecca pushed the standard thriller envelope with subtle but undeniable hints of sexual dysfunction, incest and lesbianism.



The story is familiar one; its lineage tracing back to the likes of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.  A young, naïve personal assistant (Joan Fontaine) accompanies her frumpy boss (Florence Bates) on a vacation to Monte Carlo. There she  encounters the mysterious Maxim de Winter (Laurence Olivier), a  well-heeled widower more interested in staring wistfully at the sea than the roulette table. After a brief romance and hastily arranged  marriage, the couple arrives at de Winter’s estate called Manderley; a  sprawling country mansion that makes stately Wayne Manor look like a tool shed. But Manderley is no smoothly run Downton Abbey, for awaiting  the new Mrs. de Winter is an icy reception from chief servant Mrs.  Danvers (Judith Anderson, before she was a Dame) and some puzzling hints from boathouse idiot Ben (Leonard Carey). Before long, Fontaine realizes that a ghost roams Manderley’s cavernous halls: the memory of the late Rebecca de Winter, and her gloomy shade has infiltrated every  soul and stone with guilt, longing and dread.



 Physically, Rebecca was the type of movie David O. Selznick knew how to produce. Manderley’s sumptuous sets are a study in obsessive overstatement; each surface such an architectural wonder actors often seem lost and vulnerable amid the splendors. Perhaps this competition  brought out the best in Rebecca’s cast, for they weave a tapestry of brilliance and conviction. Young Olivier is a marvel here, his mastery of elegant minimalism a joy to watch; each line reading a jewel in a satin lined box. The stiffly menacing Anderson shoots electric daggers out of her eyes while George Sanders, as Rebecca’s cousin Jack, shows once again why he’s enshrined in the Despicable Sleazeball Hall of  Fame.



But most impressive is Fontaine, her delicate edges creating profound empathy in a challenging, and at times thankless, role. Viewers will feel an immediate transference as Fontaine gracefully commands our  attention and nurtures our sympathies. She would win an Oscar the following year for Suspicion; surprisingly the only Hitchcock directed performance to ever take the Best Actress award. But it was this turn in Rebecca  that salvaged her stalled career and put her back on the track to stardom. As of this writing, Miss Fontaine, now in her 90s, is still  active and reportedly happily tending to her gardens in Carmel. We wish  her all the best, she’s earned it.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

What Dreams May Come: Post Tenebras Lux (2012) ✭✭✭✭1/2



Carlos Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux - Latin for light after darkness - is a film that will leave viewers either blissfully hypnotized or hysterically dumbfounded, with few in between. Despite being roundly booed during its screening at Cannes in 2012, the film won Reygadas the festival’s Best Director award. That dichotomy of reaction continues to batter Post Tenebras Lux to this day, with some critics hailing it a masterpiece while others dismiss it as the vilest kind of art house pretension. This 115 minute assembly of shocks, specters and stupefactions exists not in Euclidian narrative space, but in an elastic world of impulses and ideas, with traditional storytelling replaced by speculative paths and shifting realities.



Providing the backdrop for Reygadas’ ruminations is the saga of Juan (Adolfo Jiménez Castro), a forty-ish layabout who has moved his wife (Nathalia Acevedo) and two small children (Rut and Eleazer Reygadas) from the city to a jungly Mexican backwater for reasons unknown. In the film’s extraordinary opening sequence, two year old Rut is shown happily cavorting through a muddy field with the family’s loyal legion of German Shepards in tow. Surrounded by a swirl of grazing cattle and spirited mustangs, Rut’s revery seems one of those perfect childhood moments - a showcase of the sheer sensory joy of life itself. But as night falls and storm clouds gather, tiny Rut’s vulnerability to the world is revealed, leaving her only to mutter a heartbreaking “Mamma?” under a darkening sky.




Dangers faced by children is a recurring motif in Post Tenebras Lux, whether that danger is posed by glowing red demons carrying grimy toolboxes - one of the film's most confounding images - or by their own parents, who have anger management issues and do unspeakable things at tawdry sex clubs. Undercurrents of class struggle echo similar themes, as Juan’s hired hand and personal confessor (Willebaldo Torres) has lost his family to liquor and cocaine. But Juan’s paranoid sheltering wing can only do so much, as flash forwards reveal teenage Eleazer’s growing passion for rugby, a sport so rough and tumble it makes the NFL look wimpy in comparison.




Ultimately, Post Tenebras Lux resists all applications of logical templates. Like a clever escaped convict, the film lurches, veers and backtracks, disguising its own traces and motives in stark defiance of audience expectations. Those familiar with Reygadas’ previous forays into the weird, Japon, Battle in Heaven and Silent Light, may feel braced for this exotic excursion. However Post Tenebras Lux distorts the idea of cinema to far greater proportions, intruding on the dadaist domains of Jarman and Weerasathakul. As an injured, bedridden Juan playfully describes his son as a “worm” - both a visual and verbal illusion to the book of Job - Nathalia treats the family to an off-key rendition of Neil Young’s “It’s a Dream.” Perhaps Reygadas anticipated his film’s indigestibility and here offered a simple explanation for the literalists in his audience. Viewed in perspective it’s a sensible explanation, for in the mystical mind of Carlos Reygadas, who knows what dreams may come?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My 10 Best Films Seen in 2013


Here's my version of a best of year list. Below are the top 10 films I saw in 2013. Some are new productions, others hi-def reissues of old favorites. It's amazing how some films just get better with age.




10. Turn Me On Dammit! (2011) ✭✭✭✭


Turn Me On Dammit! is a Norwegian teen sex comedy and I’ll give you a moment to absorb that idea. The film is set in a tiny town so remote it’s not just in the middle of nowhere, it’s on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. Here we meet 15 year-old Alma (Helene Bergsholm), her body under assault by raging hormones and her heart consumed with hunky young Artur (Matias Myren) who plays guitar in the church choir. After an awkward sexual interlude at a party, Alma is ostracized at school and given a comical nickname by the community. The film is rich with eccentric characters, charming quirkiness and that deadpan, subtle humor the Scandinavians do better than just about anybody. The script won Best Screenplay at the Tribeca Film Festival and director Jannicke Systad Jacobsen is clearly a talent to watch. Think Northern Exposure re-imagined by John Hughes.




9. Rust and Bone (2012) ✭✭✭✭


Rust and Bone is at heart a love story, but don’t expect slow motion montages of a happy couple cavorting in a field of daisies. It’s a grim, tough guy sort of romance with street fights substituting for candlelight dinners and lovemaking presented as just another form of physical therapy. Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a thuggish former boxer who has fled Belgium with his young son Sam (Armand Verdure) for the sunnier climes of Antibes. His wife - who is never shown - has become involved with drug use and dealing, putting Sam’s welfare at great risk. Stephanie (Marion Cotillard) is a whale trainer at Marineland, where she dons a wetsuit every day and enthralls audiences with the acrobatic exploits of these magnificent beasts. The pair meet one night at a raucous bar where Ali works as a bouncer. When he helps Stephanie out of a potentially violent situation, Ali’s sexual desire is mistaken for gallantry. This white knight’s armor may be deeply tarnished, but in the modern rough and tumble world one can’t be too choosy about guardian angels.



8. Badlands (1973) on Blu-ray ✭✭✭✭ 1/2


1973’s Badlands marked the first feature film from writer/director Terrence Malick and it squarely put him on the path to his current cinematic sainthood. Over a forty year career and a scant six feature films — three more are on the way — Malick has established a well deserved mystique as the closest thing America has produced to a true European style auteur. Frankly, no one else is even close.



7. Lincoln (2012)  ✭✭✭✭ 1/2


Daniel Day-Lewis’ manifestation is a performance for the ages. What George C. Scott did for Patton and Marlon Brando did for The Godfather, Day-Lewis does for Lincoln, and that may be understating his achievement. This Lincoln is not the heroic figure of historical sainthood, but a shy, introverted man who bore the crushing weight of his crumbling nation the same way he outmaneuvered his formidable political opposition, by forging wit, decency and intelligence into an irresistible force. 



6. Postmen in the Mountains (1999) ✭✭✭✭ 1/2


Postmen in the Mountains is a film that outwardly seems as simple and straightforward as its title, but within its placid layers is a deceptive emotional depth. In this tale of transition, a middle-aged mail carrier (Rujun Ten), facing retirement due to declining health, prepares to hand over his route to his estranged 24 year old son (Ye Liu). The two men embark on a three day journey over the rugged mountains of Hunan province as the father shows his son the ropes. It ran the table at the 1999 Chinese Film Awards and was Japan’s top grossing film at the box office in 2001. It is a gentle, delicate film that deals with father-son relationships and generational change with bittersweet moments of humor and empathy.  And despite the film’s exotic locale, viewers are sure to recognize some of the major passages of their own lives.



5. I Am Cuba (1964)  ✭✭✭✭ 1/2



My goodness this film is everything it’s cracked up to be. I will be doing a long winded pedantic review eventually, but right now I’m too overcome by its brilliance to mutter anything worthwhile. Rumors are Criterion will release a blu-ray next year, and that will be a glorious day. In the meantime, I'll be thinking about this one…and the star rating may move up.



4. Wild Strawberries (1957) on Blu-ray ✭✭✭✭✭



Wild Strawberries is a stunning cinematic experience. Filled with mystical beauty and chewy philosophical constructs in a tidy, perfectly tailored ninety-two minute package, the film is a mandatory part of the syllabus for any serious cineaste. And even if you’ve experienced this recondite road movie in the distant past, it’s high time for a revisit thanks to Criterion’s sublime new blu-ray edition. With this disc, viewers will discover boundless new textures and detail, leaving that dreary 16mm print from college film class in the magical dust of Swedish high summer.




3. Amour (2012) ✭✭✭✭✭



There is a profound method to Haneke’s dry clinical approach. As the film progresses to the final act, audiences will find themselves as physically drained as Georges, and wholly sympathetic as his faculties and judgement reach a dangerous brink. In true Haneke fashion, Amour ultimately delivers its own shocking moments and disorienting aftermaths, and it does so with raw courage unfiltered by sentiment. No Amour is not a feel good popcorn movie. It’s a brilliantly guided journey worthy  of admiration and a perfect embodiment of Bette Davis’ immortal phrase: “Getting old ain’t for sissies.”





2. Tokyo Story (1953) on Blu-ray ✭✭✭✭✭


Yasujirô Ozu’s Tokyo Story from 1953, now available in a superbly packaged Blu-ray edition from Criterion, is a film that subtly captures the dynamics of family life in ways that feel shockingly real. There are moments here of such immediacy and personal truth that it seems impossible for Tokyo Story to be a relic of a bygone age and culture. Yet, due to Ozu’s masterful – one could say otherworldly – powers of observation, this sixty year old glimpse into the everyday lives of the Hirayama family presents the human condition with a universality that still rings true in 2013.




1. Babette's Feast (1987) on Blu-ray ✭✭✭✭✭




Like all good fairy tales, Babette’s Feast has a moral. Actually it has several morals, some obvious, some buried in subtext. It’s an example of film as palimpsest; charming and engaging on its rustic surface, but laden with deep veins of meaning and nuggets of existential truth for those willing to unearth them. Along its symbolic, candlelit arc several facets of the human condition are wistfully addressed, from gnawing regret over past decisions to the true nature of Christianity to the ever-changing definition of spirituality as defined by good works.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Histrionics in Harper: The Stranger (1946) ✭✭✭



The leafy lanes and tidy clapboard houses of a Connecticut village hide a monstrous evil in The Stranger, Orson Welles’s flirtation with hired-gun hackery from 1946. Made a mere 5 years after Citizen KaneThe Stranger is a film notable mainly for its cynicism. To producer Sam Spiegal, who appears in the credits as S.P. Eagle, it was an attempt to cash in on the horrific revelations from the recently liberated Nazi death camps. To director/star Welles, it was a last chance at Hollywood redemption.


At the time, Welles was the classic cinema enfant terrible; a young creator of brilliant, critically acclaimed films that, just like today, were largely ignored by the public. Welles had quickly built a reputation in the industry as an arrogant egomaniac whose products, while peerless artistically, drove studios to the brink of insolvency. With the world, and the movie business, returning to a state of relative normalcy after WWII, Welles faced a career dilemma: profit or perish.


As a concept, The Stranger seemed a perfect match for the zeitgeist. Penned by Victor Trivas, a pacifist German filmmaker who spent the better part of two decades hiding from Nazis, the script reduced the horrors of the holocaust to a simple detective story; a popular and familiar genre to the audiences of 1946. On the surface, the story appeared a perfect match for Welles – the pride of Kenosha, Wisconsin – and his unique sensibilities: sunny Americana threatened by a shadowy foreign malevolence lurking in our midst. Welles was one of the first to see concentration camp documentary footage and was so deeply moved by the experience he enthusiastically signed on to the project. But there was the caveat that this film, unlike Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, was to have wide appeal and not a typical Mercury Theatre offering for those of eclectic, high brow taste.


Edward G. Robinson portrays Mr. Wilson, a government investigator and leader of an international group charged with bringing fascist war criminals to justice. He follows an escaped, low level S.S. functionary named Meinike (Konstatine Shayne) across the Atlantic in hopes of nabbing a much bigger prize: death camp architect Franz Kindler, conceiver and implementer of Hitler’s final solution, who has thus far eluded capture. Surprisingly, Meinike’s trail leads to the sleepy hamlet of Harper, Connecticut where it abruptly and mysteriously ends. Desperate for clues, Robinson poses as a visiting antiques dealer and begins to mingle with the local populace. He eventually meets a history professor named Rankin (Orson Welles), a recent hire at the Harper School for Boys and newly married to Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), a product of one of Harper’s leading families. At first, Rankin seems above suspicion. But slowly Robinson begins to see through Rankin’s façade, and becomes convinced this tweedy, soft spoken school teacher is actually the fiendish Kindler in disguise.


Welles’s patented visual style drives the film in the early going, complete with low angle cameras, inky shadows and deep, ceilinged sets. Robinson’s establishing scene, a meeting with other Nazi hunters, features blocking nearly identical to Kane’s famous projection room sequence. In an inspired bit of visual cleverness, Welles has Robinson break his pipe in a fit of pique and the hastily repaired, taped-over smoking apparatus becomes an important visual identifier as the story progresses. Along a wooded trail, Welles has a secret meeting with one of the main characters, and the lengthy dialogue is covered in a single beautifully choreographed take. It was a technique Welles would work to ambitious perfection 12 years later in Touch of Evil, but here we see the genesis of his fascination with camera-subject ballet.


Welles was an underrated director of actors – every actor but himself – and here he assembles a nearly perfect cast of archetypes, ranging from elegant landed gentry to busy-body small town rubes. Loretta Young, given a truly difficult and thankless role, has to walk a tightrope between starry-eyed incredulity and abject cluelessness, but amazingly she pulls it off. Crusty vaudevillian Billy House, as soda fountain proprietor Mr. Potter, is a joy to watch as a dodgy know-it-all who keeps an eagle eye on the town’s business from his storefront window. And Robinson, known primarily for riveting interpretations of gangsters, is superb as a crusader driven by an unquenchable thirst for justice.


Among the actors, the only weak link is Welles. His turn as Rankin starts with interesting subtlety, evoking the whispered edges of veiled secrets. But, much like the film itself, his performance eventually teeters over the edge and onto a chilled platter of diced ham. As the cat-and-mouse game between Wilson and Rankin mercifully races to conclusion, the film loses its unique Wellesian visual luster and becomes just another noir thriller. A spooky clock tower, Harper’s civic landmark and prominently featured throughout the story, becomes both a deadly trap and a setting of Hitchcockian grandeur for the film’s baroque and inflated finale. When all is said and done, the audiences’ sense of relief appears to be shared by Welles himself, as bits of scenery dangle from his pearly bicuspids.


For Orson Welles, The Stranger accomplished its objectives; it entertained and it made money. In fact, it was the first Welles feature to turn a profit on its first run and it got an Oscar nomination for best screenplay in the process. Welles would survive to direct another day and eventually, after a few misfires, create such brilliant works as Touch of Evil and Chimes at Midnight. But despite his heroic attempts to elevate this melodramatic potboiler, Welles is out of his element here and it shows. Still, The Stranger is a must-see for Welles fans and completeists. And it’s a vivid reminder of just how challenging it was to find a script that actually deserved him.