(director/writer: Orson Welles; screenwriters: from a story by Victor Trivas/Anthony Veiller/ an uncredited John Huston; cinematographer: Russell Metty; editor: Ernest Nims; music: Bronislau Kaper; cast: Orson Welles (Franz Kindler/Prof. Charles Rankin), Edward G. Robinson (Wilson), Loretta Young (Mary Longstreet), Philip Merivale (Judge Adam Longstreet), Martha Wentworth (Sara), Richard Long (Noah Longstreet), Byron Keith (Dr. Jeff Lawrence), Billy House (Mr. Potter), Konstantin Shayne (Konrad Meinike); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam Spiegel; RKO; 1946)
“Comes up short as far as believability due to the lame script.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Cinema genius Orson Welles (“Citizen Kane”) shoots his most conventional and probably his worst film (the director himself stated: “It is the worst of my films. There is nothing of me in that picture. I did it to prove I could put out a movie as well as anyone else”). It’s a psychological thriller with noir pretensions; it comes up short as far as believability due to the lame script, but still is greatly entertaining thanks to a superb cast. It’s from a story by Victor Trivas and the screenplay is by Anthony Veiller and Welles.
The gentle, pipe smoking Wilson is a dedicated American Nazi hunter working for the Allied War Crimes Commission. He talks the other members of the commission into releasing a former commandant of a concentration camp, Konrad Meinike, in the hopes he will lead them to Franz Kindler–the architect behind the theory of genocide. There’s no photo of the dangerous Nazi who vanished, and the only thing known about him is his hobby of fixing antique clocks. Wilson tails him to the small hamlet of Harper, Connecticut, but the agent is spotted by the cagey Meinike and knocked unconscious before he can determine who is the person he came to see.
After recovering from the blow and snooping around town Wilson, a few weeks later, attends a dinner with the illustrious Supreme Court Judge Longstreet’ family on the pretense he’s an antique dealer and came to attend an antique show. During the conversation Charles Rankin (Orson Welles), the local prep school history professor, a stranger to town, just returning from his honeymoon after marrying the judge’s daughter, Mary (Loretta Young), mentions “Marx wasn’t a German, he was a Jew.” This arouses Wilson’s suspicions that only a Nazi would say something like that and the agent intensifies his search around the professor.
When Meinike’s strangled corpse is discovered in the nearby woods, Mary’s dog poisoned, and that Rankin forces Mary not to tell if Meinike came to his house, the agent confronts the innocent Mary about her Nazi husband and shows her the atrocities he committed on newsreel film. But she’s in denial, refusing to believe she fell in love with such a monster and runs back to her hubby. He lies, but soon the agent tightens the net around him and it becomes a matter if they get Kindler in time before he harms his wife.
I found Loretta Young’s character to be implausible, she had to be the dumbest fool on the planet to be so naive. Her character never seemed real, only as a cipher meant to convey how unsafe it can be even in her peaceful environment to let your guard down to the point where you become completely unaware of the ordinary dangers. Her stagy emotionless marriage and refusal to listen to reason after it seemed the only thing to do, made the melodramatics seem artificial and the film unconvincing.
Warning: spoiler to follow.
It was the splendid visual effects that made this clumsy film bearable. The best scene was the finale, as Welles dangles from the church clock tower he just fixed and falls to his death. Another that worked well, was the schoolboy paper chase over the wooded area where Welles was just killed minutes before his wedding. It’s interesting to note that Welles’ worst film was his biggest commercial success.
REVIEWED ON 1/7/2005 GRADE: B- https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/