Orson Welles, the Stranger

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  • Topic: Orson Welles, Nazi Germany, Nuremberg Trials
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Cine 508. Orson Welles

December 5th 2011

The Loyally Blind Eye

The Stranger (1946) by Orson Welles is filled with deep-seated ideas of neo-Nazism and loyalty amongst the various ranks of social and political structure. Orson Welles’s character, Franz Kindler, is placed at the top of a Nazi hierarchy of murderous villains who should be held accountable for their war crimes. Kindler represents multiple war criminals and systems of murder that took place during World War II. The character is not being portrayed as the single man who is responsible, such as Hitler, but rather Kindler stands for the idea of neo-Nazism that many Americans turned a blind eye to within the United States. The film has a Noire style cinematography, credited to Russell Metty, that sets the emotion with great detail for this mystery thriller, along with editing by Ernest J. Nims that quickened the pace and gave the film a Hollywood-like polish. This film shows a time in Welles’s career where he was able to work from within the hollywood system while still able to convey whatever messages he wanted to the public by using a great team of collaborators and his own unique mind.

Towards the end of the movie, Kindler used the excuse that was coined by many of the Nazi war criminals, “I was just doing my job. I was just following orders.” This term was the prime defense in the case of the Nuremberg Trials. The Nuremberg Trials were founded on the premise of hunting down war criminals and prosecuting them for their crimes that were too horrible to simply forget about. Mitchell Geoffrey gives an explanation of this in his book, The Complete Idiots Guide to World War II,

“They wanted to show they could resist the temptation to exact vengeance and to hold Nazi officials and military leaders accountable for the actions of their underlings. Furthermore, they wanted to make clear to the rank-and-file that crimes could not be excused by the claim that a person was (just following orders.)” In The Stranger, Franz Kindler fled away to a small town in the United States in order to hide from his war crimes, but was still not opposed to a second coming of Nazism as described in a quote by Welles’s character, Franz Kindler, “ Who would think to look for the notorious Franz Kindler in the sacred precincts of the Harper School, surrounded by the sons of America’s first families? And i’ll stay hidden... Till the day when we strike again.” Kindler represented thousands of neo-Nazis that fled to the United States in order to hide away their pasts. The character of Franz Kindler was loosely based around the war criminals, Martin Bormann, Heinrich Himmler, and Reinhard Heydrich. These people were all very high ranking Nazi officials. Mr. Wilson, played by Edward G. Robinson explains Kindler’s status as a high ranking man while he shows actual footage of Nazi interment camps to Loretta Young, played by Mary Longstreet. Peter Bogdanovich comments in an interview with Orson Welles in his book, This is Orson Welles, “The Stranger was the first commercial film to use footage of Nazi concentration-camp atrocities.” Orson Welles replied, “ Was it? I’m against that sort of thing in principle--exploiting real misery, agony, or death for purposes of entertainment.” The scene was effective at showcasing blame towards Kindler for multiple peoples’ actions and contributions to the massacre of millions of people. The fact that it was the first time something like this would be shown to the public was a step in the right direction at getting people to open their eyes to the disregard for human life that the Germans had during the war. During this post-war period, there were still a lot of people in denial about what happened in Germany during World War II. Many others, like Orson Welles in this film, were trying to preserve the events that really took place in World War...
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