A post-WWII war crimes official hunts down a little-known escaped Nazi: the man who secretly planned and managed the Holocaust. [ The Stranger credits: Dir: Orson Welles/ Orson Welles, Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young/ 95 min/ Drama, Thriller/ Democide]
What makes Hitler’s extermination of six million Jews “The Holocaust” isn’t just the sheer number murdered, horrifying though it is. There have been much larger holocausts. Stalin and Mao between them killed somewhere between twenty million and a hundred million.
What really distinguishes the Nazi holocaust is its diabolical thoroughness – a high degree of planning in advance, intensive organization and engineering during, and meticulous record-keeping after – that together gives it a scientific pre-meditation, a chilling aspect of cold calculation unparalleled among the many socialist democides of the last century.
Much of that evil was the energetic work of one man: Hans Kammler. He oversaw the design and construction of all the concentration and extermination camps, and later was in charge of administering them. He was never caught. Conflicting reports suggested that he committed suicide at the end of the war, but these could not be confirmed.
In this fictionalized account, “Franz Kindler,” (likewise the Holocaust’s chief organizer, and presumably based on Hans Kammler) has eluded capture. No one even knows what Kindler looks like, as he was careful to cultivate an unusual degree of anonymity.
Determined, nonetheless, to find him at all costs, an official from the Allied War Commission, Mr. Wilson, decides to release a lesser Nazi with the hope that he will lead him to Kindler. The plan almost works until the trail runs cold in the innocent little college town of Harper, Connecticut. All that Wilson knows is that Kindler is in this town. That and one other thing: Kindler has a peculiarly strong fascination, almost a mania…for clocks.
I will not spoil this tightly-crafted cat and mouse suspense with any more detail other than to say that the story was nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Screenplay.” Add to that one of the finest casts ever assembled – including G. Robinson, Loretta Young, and Orson Welles (who also directed) – and you have a film that seventy years after its initial release remains one of most popular of all time, and with a platinum approval rating of 96% among critics.
The Stranger was the first Hollywood film to show documentary footage from the Nazi concentration camps (a brief clip is shown to one of the characters in the course of events). That clip nails Kindler as the supreme evil and justifies his supremely violent end, but the squeamish may want to cover their eyes in that final moment.
Edward G. Robinson portrays with determination the avenging angel of Mr. Wilson, who hunts down Kindler, no doubt inspired by the fact that he himself was a Jew and an early supporter of efforts to help Jews escape. Orson Welles is his theatrical best as Kindler.
Democide has often been a hallmark of socialism (whether national socialism or international socialism). Central planners eager to create the “new socialist man,” in whatever variant they have chosen, sooner or later tend to get rid of those who don’t fit the bill. Real justice rarely touches those actually responsible. It’s a satisfying thing from a libertarian perspective, whether in real life or in fiction, when it does.
“The Stranger is a cunning conspiracy to scare the daylights out of you.”
“The Stranger is socko melodrama, spinning an intriguing web of thrills and chills. Director Orson Welles gives the production a fast, suspenseful development, drawing every advantage from the hard-hitting script. Plot moves forward at a relentless pace.”