Movies I’ve Recently Seen: The Stranger, The Wicker Man, Angel, & Dementia 13

Considering that it’s October, we have two horror movies, along with something noir. But if you want to smile, there’s a Lubitsch in here, too.

B+ The Stranger (1946)Orson Welles’ third film is a conventional anti-Nazi noir (no deep focus photography), but a very good one. Edward G. Robinson plays the hero for a change, as a Nazi hunter running down killers after the war. Welles himself plays the hero’s prey, a thoroughly evil former concentration camp officer now living peacefully in small-town America. Loretta Young plays the new bride who doesn’t know that her new groom is a monster. A very enjoyable little picture. To my knowledge, this is only the second Hollywood film that explicitly acknowledged Nazi anti-Semitism – or even used the word Jew (the first was The Great Dictator).

B+ The Wicker Man (1973)

This is a tough film to write about without spoiling everything. It’s also quite difficult to tell who you should be rooting for until you’re deep into the story. A policeman (Edward Woodward) flies from mainland Scotland to a small island to investigate a missing child. Strangely, no one seems upset about the disappearance. The people on the island are all Pagans, which is a problem because the policeman is a Christian fanatic who responds to a different religion with narrow-minded hatred. Christopher Lee plays the local Lord, and Britt Ekland is there to look good without clothes.

B- Angel (1937)

Far from Ernst Lubitsch’s best, Angel is little more than a moralistic melodrama with occasional humor. Marlene Dietrich stars as the wife of an important British diplomat (Herbert Marshall). War seems ready to explode throughout Europe (as would soon happen in real life), and the diplomat doesn’t have much time for his wife. So she flies to Paris, meets a handsome man (Melvyn Douglas), and has a flirtation. Yes, only a flirtation; you can feel Lubitsch struggling with the then-new production code censoring Hollywood movies. If it had been made four years earlier, it would have been a delightful immoral comedy such as Trouble in Paradise and Design for Living.

C+ Dementia 13 (1963)

Francis Coppola’s first feature, a Roger Corman quicky, has some nice touches, but not enough to make it a must see. It begins with a woman hiding her husband’s natural death for inheritance reasons. Her in-laws have considerable mental problems, and soon things get very weird. Let’s just say that Coppola (who also wrote the screenplay) borrows something surprising from Hitchcock. Even more surprising, I discovered that Tom Petty borrowed a line of dialog from Coppola.