Sunday, February 20, 2011

Welles' THE STRANGER now on Hi-Def DVD

Until the other evening, when we popped this newly-released Blu-Ray version of the old Orson Welles movie THE STRANGER (from 1946) into our player, it had been decades since TrustMovies had seen the film, which holds up better -- and worse -- than he'd remembered. Welles both directed and starred in the film (and supposedly had an uncredited hand, along with that of John Huston's, in writing the movie), and his fingerprints, not to mention his mug, are everywhere to be seen. Orson was never one to avoid the florid (his The Lady from Shanghai would arrive the following year); if anyone could make too-muchness work, it was this guy.

The film remains quite enjoyable, albeit sometimes in "camp" noir fashion, though at the time of its release -- the year after World War II ended -- it was anything but. Its subject is Nazis (and not neo-Nazis, but the real thing): one in particular, who managed to escape from Germany and has now set up housekeeping in the USA. I suspect that this was one of, if not the first film to give Americans even a very brief view of the Holocaust atrocities -- which were held back from our innocent and pristine view for far too long.

The film takes the form of a melodrama/mystery, with an early Nazi-hunter (the great Edward G. Robinson, shown on poster, top, and two photos above, left) tracking our man (Welles) who is now a teacher on a northeastern college campus and about to be married to the lovely Loretta Young (above, right). The film is full of charming scenes of "standard" American life at the time, from the soda fountain to a game of checkers, the small-town church (with its all-important clock tower) to the family dog. Yet all these are subverted by the subject at hand, together with Welles' directorial style, into a much darker versions of themselves. Performances are fine -- except, oddly enough, from Welles himself, who bugs his eyes and carries on like crazy. Good film actors usually realize that they must play down, or even against, the moment to convince. But Welles plays right into things and thus turns The Stranger into a camp artifact that yet remains great fun to view.

The new DVDs (one regular, the other Blu-Ray) in a single combo set and priced suggested retail at $15.99, hit the street this past Tuesday, February 15, from Film Chest/HD Cinema Classics and Virgil Films & Entertainment. Digitally restored in hi-def from original 35mm "film assets" in a full-screen aspect ratio of 4x3 and original sound, as well as a new 5.1 Surround Sound mix. Special features include Spanish subtitles, before-and-after film restoration demo and trailer. Overall, the quality of the image and sound is quite good but not ideal. However, if you try streaming the version available from Netflix, not in this new hi-def quality, you will immediately see the difference. Both versions are watchable, but the new one is preferred.

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