THE STRANGER: Restored and Respected on Blu-ray

Next Tuesday, a company you’ve probably never heard of (I know I hadn’t) is putting Orson Welles’ THE STRANGER out in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack that costs more than two bucks. This is a very good thing.

I’m getting more info about the wonderful people behind Film Chest Inc., who restored The Stranger digitally, as well as HD Cinema Classics, the distributor of the 2/15 Blu-rays of this and Kansas City Confidential (review forthcoming on the latter). I admire a company that has the balls to put money into restoring a film that you’ve been able to get for a couple of dollars on public domain DVD for years and going fully commercial with it. Hell, you can watch the whole thing on YouTube, and it’s perfectly legal to do so.

In the 1946 film, ex-Nazi Charles Rankin (Orson Welles, who also directed) flees to the U.S., shredding all evidence of his prior identity and setting himself up as a professor of history. His unsuspecting wife Mary (Loretta Young), her family, and friends are caught up in a slow-burning manhunt when U.N. War Crimes Commissioner Mr. Wilson (Edward G. Robinson) tracks a former comrade of  Rankin’s to the sleepy Connecticut town he now calls home.

A highlight for me is how inappropriate it is to modern audiences that Robinson’s Mr. Wilson, Mary’s father (a Supreme Court Justice), and her brother are just fine with the idea of using her as murder bait to trap Nazi mastermind Franz Kindler (Rankin’s real name). It’s also notable for being the first post-war American film to feature documentary footage from the concentration camps, as well as Welles’ least favorite of his own films.

[caption id=“attachment_9437” align=“aligncenter” width=“575” caption=“It was difficult to sync up screen captures, since the cheapo public domain copy I have is missing bits of runtime. The old versions out there also seem to be improperly cropped (which doesn't surprise me in the least). Note how much cleaner the scan on the new restored version is on the right.”]


The movie’s great, but I’ve never seen it at a quality above a terrible, muddy, and blurry VHS transfer. The Blu-ray is a revelation, with a consistent level of contrast throughout the whole movie along with a film-like look that’s free of excessive grain reduction. Having never seen a 35mm or 16mm print of it, I lack the ability to give that sort of comparative recommendation. Compared to Blu-ray transfers of black & white movies from the same era, however, this one is astoundingly on-par with some of the best of those coming from major studios with much larger budgets.

This is one of those causes where throwing your money at something really does make a difference…capitalism at work and all that. The disc has no extras aside from a postcard insert, a trailer, and a restoration demo (which does a side-by-side split-screen comparison). That shouldn’t put you off of buying it though, especially at $12. If you dig the movie, it should be all you need, especially if you’re a Welles obsessive like me.

The same combo of Film Chest & HD Cinema Classics put bizarre “children’s movie” Carnival Magic out recently. As I mentioned previously, they will also have the terrific public domain noir Kansas City Confidential out on Tuesday along with The Stranger. I’ll try to get something written about the two others as soon as I can. In the mean time, take to the comments and let me know what you think about public domain stuff put out in decent (and copyrighted) editions like this for reasonable prices. I’m curious.