Today The American Scholar posted my essay on The Stranger and The Lady from Shanghai, two late 1940s noirs from Orson Welles. Here are the opening paragraphs, with a link to the piece at The American Scholar.
Orson Welles directed and starred in two late-’40s noirs. He is the hapless hero in one; in the other, the dastardly villain. In The Lady from Shanghai (1947), Welles cast himself as itinerant Irish sailor Michael O’Hara, who narrates the film and is the fall guy in an intricate homicidal plot. In The Stranger (1946), Welles plays an unrepentant Nazi. In both, the acting up and down the cast is superb, and the direction a marvel.
The Stranger has the more straightforward plot and is the more righteous of the two. It includes newsreel footage informing an incredulous public of the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany. It is also the only movie Welles made that showed a profit when it was first released. Variety called it “socko melodrama.”
Franz Kindler (Welles), a bigwig in the Third Reich, who is said to have “conceived the theory of genocide,” has reinvented himself as Charles Rankin, an instructor at the exclusive Harper School for Boys (“established 1827”) in an idyllic Connecticut village. An imprisoned Nazi fanatic, Konrad Meinike (Konstantin Shayne), is released in the hope that he will lead the authorities—in the person of pipe-smoking Mr. Wilson, agent of the war crimes commission (Edward G. Robinson)—to Kindler.