Considering Orson Welles’ pedigree, I was hoping for more from The Stranger (1946), a creepy small-town potboiler with some artful flourishes but a simplistic, uninspired script. It’s about a war crimes investigator named Wilson (Edward G. Robinson), who tails a released enemy agent to a village in Connecticut. His hope is that the mark will lead him to the notorious Nazi killer her’s trying to find, and his strategy pays off, delivering him to mild-mannered Professor Charles Rankin (Welles). Rankin is a good, American citizen above suspicion, just about to get married to Mary Longstreet (Loretta Young), the daughter of a Supreme Court justice. But when the agent turns up dead, Wilson starts to realize he’s in the right place, and that Rankin is his man.
The Stranger isn’t without its strengths, a simmering post-war noir somewhat reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. Welles’ direction is as striking as ever, with memorable shots. But the story is too straightforward, with few surprises, and ultimately strolls in expected directions. Robinson’s shrewd, average joe investigator is likeable, but overall the acting is run of the mill. Considering the potentially powerful subject matter underlying the affair, this one doesn’t really have much weight to it, and definitely lacks narrative spark.