I am new to LORETTA YOUNG. Well, not exactly. More accurately, I’ve had my eyes wide shut to her through most of my early classic film journey. ( I know, I know… ‘there are none so blind as those who cannot see.’ ) A young friend of mine ( KM-P ) from a land far far away, asked me if I had seen Loretta’s pre–code films. Uhhhmmm, not really. Late 30’s yeah, but not early. She suggested I start with her pre-code work. I since have. Holy cow, who knew!!!
Another friend texted me about an early film of Loretta’s she had taken out of the library and I was able to chime in as though I knew this fact all along. Well now I know. And now I wholeheartedly join a slew of bloggers to celebrate the career of fellow Capricorn, Loretta Young. ( She, January 6th
and I’m January 18th. Me and Cary Grant, that is ) for my first blogathon of 2016. ( Click on the banner above. ) Experiencing Young’s persona in her pre-code films ( Gaaaah! She had to be the most put upon movie heroine of the early 30’s: “She Had To Say Yes” ) helps springboard me to her later work. You know, seeing her evolution and all…
- Within the first three minutes we know Orson Welles is a Nazi
- Within the first five minutes we know Orson Welles is a murderer
- Within the first ten minutes we see Orson Welles marry Loretta Young
Young plays newlywed Mary Rankin and we watch her go from unknowing-to-knowing. We’re helpless as we see the scales ripped from her eyes. And because Young’s screen persona has basically been the nice girl, it becomes increasingly tough to watch her go through all this. She’s very good playing a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Noah: “Gee Mr. Wilson. You must be wrong. Mary wouldn’t fall in love with that kind of a man.”
Mr. Wilson: “I hope I am wrong Noah, but that’s the way it is. People can’t help who they fall in love with.”
Things go South for Young right after her honeymoon. Edward G. Robinson comes to town as Mr. Wilson, a sort of Van Helsing of Nazi hunters and he’s out for the big Kahuna…Welles. Welles’ character is not really that of a college history professor, but as Franz Kindler, Mastermind of the Final Solution. I love Robinson in this film. He’s so wonderfully down-to-earth, even-tempered and fraternal. He’s much more gentle with Young than Welles is. Eddie G. confides in her younger brother Noah, played engagingly by eighteen year old Richard Long ( of “The Big Valley” fame ) in only his second motion picture.
“Your sister’s a fine woman, Noah. But she must find out the kind of man she’s married to. Noah, we must arrange it so that she finds out for herself.”
But he is looking for a Nazi. And he’s anything but calm about that mission. She is a loving caring wife. When suspicion falls on Welles she comes to his defense, fiercely. The first chink in the armor of her marriage is her not being able to speak up about what she sees. Robinson picks that up:
“One thing’s certain. She knows nothing now. Nothing at all except that he didn’t want her to admit having seen someone she did see. I’d give some-
thing to know what explanation he’s making right now.”
Silencing the wife. Negating what she sees. Sounds like marriage to me. Oh he
explaaaaaains, alright. Welles does tell her the terrible horrible truth, wrapped in plausible lies. He’s killed her beloved dog. Noah calls it murder when he finds ol’ Red. Me too. Grrr!! She’s shocked and incredulous but convinces herself to believe him. I really can’t blame her. You’ll get no Monday morning quarterbacking from this back-seat driving classic Cine Maven. Welles is a master manipulator.
Young: “I meant it when I said ‘for better or for worse’.”
Welles: “Even to killing Red?”
Young: “You couldn’t. It was an accident.”
Welles: “No, I meant to kill him. Murder can be a chain Mary, one link leading to another ‘till it circles your neck. Red was digging into the grave of the man I killed.”
Young: “You killed him?”
Welles: “With these hands. The same hands that held you close to me.”
Welles is not an easy director for some to get through, try and try as they might. I like what I’ve seen of his work so far. And you may like this film only because of Loretta Young. But it’s a pretty easy, straight-forward directing job from the boy genius.’ He shows us what he wants us to see. His character is one of darkness, so he’s often obscured in shadows or darkness, holding the camera on Loretta Young’s lovely face; rather than us watching him lie to her, we keep looking at her believing the lies.
Welles’ professor makes her complicit in his hiding. That was the devilishest thing of all with him. He keeps her really close to him. She willingly lies to protect him because she loves him. He’s teaching her to lie and deceive…until he can get away. In the meantime, he ‘hides’ in this small-town of innocence. He ‘hides’ behind marrying the daughter of a Supreme Court judge. Diabolical. He uses love…her love, to bind her to him. Her cognitive dissonance is running high as we see her struggle to convince herself he’s a good guy. When Robinson’s Mr. Wilson thinks the time is right, he tells her:
“I’m on the Allied Commission for the Punishment of War Criminals. It’s my job to bring escaped Nazis to justice. It’s that job that brought me to Harper.”
Robinson shows Young footage of the liberation of a concentration camp ( perhaps the first time movie audiences are seeing these camps themselves. ) She plays the scene well, sort of averting her eyes but also looking. You can’t unring a bell, and she cannot UNsee. Robinson delivers the coup de grace on her psyche:
“Now, in all the world, there’s only one person that can identify Franz Kindler. That person is the one who knows, knows definitely who Meineke came to Harper to see.”
It’s a sad scene. She’s crying, she’s hurt, disbelieving. Her father tries to console and comfort her. You can see the closeness in the relationship as they walk down the street, her head on her Dad’s shoulder, her father warmly played by Philip Merivale. Yes, it’s a little more than “Honey, there is no Santa Claus.” Robinson later says to her father:
“She has the facts now. But she won’t accept them. They’re too horrible for her to acknowledge. Not so much that Rankin could be Kindler, but that she could ever have given her love to such a creature. But we have one ally…her subconscious. It knows what the truth is and is struggling to be heard. The will to truth within your daughter is much too strong to be denied.”
But the very next scene has Young go to Welles to tell him how she withstood their questioning and accusations; she’s so proud to tell him. She tries to impress him, She wants prove her love by showing him she’d never tell. I think she has Stockholm Syndrome. The bad thing with her admission is Welles now knows she knows who he is, but she does not fully know what she knows. And for her even to have this knowledge
( which she hides from herself ) is a danger to him. Her “knowing” acknowledgment manifests itself in a Lady MacBethian way. ( “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!!” ) Now she wants the curtains drawn. Wants no light let into the house ( wants no truth let into her mind? ) At her luncheon party, dressed to the nines [ as only Loretta can ] topped off with lady-like white pearls around her throat, she fidgets with the necklace, tugs on it as if it were a noose. It IS a noose in a way. She’s dying to take them off from around her neck after the party’s over. She’s at the breaking point. When Welles comes behind her to help her with the pearls, she recoils and snaps the beads to the floor.
“When she snapped those beads, she signed her own death warrant. We’re carrying her life in our hands,” says her father.
Now she knows what her husband is and acknowledges it, and HE knows she knows. And everyone knows SHE knows and, in turn, knows Welles knows she knows. ( You got all that? ) She must be protected and not let out of anyone’s sight. There is a great scene with her long-time housekeeper trying everything in her power to keep Young from leaving the house. They were both so good in this scene because there were different intentions that clashed against each other.
The housekeeper has got to keep her home, while Young tries to be loyal to her husband and secretly meet him, becomes impatient with the housekeeper ( good performance by Martha Wentworth ) when she delays her, tries to make up to her for yelling at her and then take care of it when she has a heart attach. Young “follow orders” not to tell that she was meeting Welles at the church tower. ( See how easy it is to fall into that trap? ) But when she couldn’t make it, she does tell her kid brother to meet him. Great scene in such a small scale way. The push / pull to keep Young in the house was suspenseful.
Loved Young’s confrontation with her husband when it all comes out. He’s at the breaking point himself. Her belief system’s been shattered about him but she gains some strength when her family’s put in danger.
Young: “Did you kill Noah?”
Welles: “Yes, if he goes to the church and climbs up that ladder.”
Young: “It was I you intended to kill wasn’t it?”
Young: “Why wasn’t it I? FRANZ KINDLER!!! Kill me. Kill me, I want you to. I couldn’t face life knowing what I’d been to you and what I’ve done to Noah. But when you kill me, don’t put your hands on me. Here. Use this!!”
Her belief system’s been shattered, but she gains some strength when her family’s put in danger. See her pure release when she’s finally able to contemptuously calls him out. See her face here when she triumphantly says his name. And the triumph is mixed with disgust and fear. She’s practically saying “…even though you’re evil you’re still not good enough to touch me.” The twistedness of giving him a weapon ( the fire poker ) TO kill her was brilliant:
A frisson of emotions washes over me with goosebumps during her whole discovery scene. Young is thrilling to watch go toe-to-toe with Orson Welles. Her death would be on her own terms. She faces him for their final confrontation in the church tower. I LOVED her having him lift her up by the arm, dangling in mid-air since he sawed off some of the ladder’s rungs earlier. ( This seemed Hitchcockian to me. ) Pretty gutsy move for our doe-eyed, apple-cheeked heroine. She makes me think Teresa Wright in “Shadow 0f A Doubt.” ( “Go away Uncle Charlie or I’ll kill you myself. See. That’s the way I feel about you.” ) Young’s character ( like Wright’s Charlie ) now SEES Evil. It’s her turn now to deceive him into believing she still trusts HIM. She has to get close to him to kill him. HE needs her to be close to him so he can kill her. It’d be too easy for him to drop her from that height. He NEEDS to kill her.
Welles: “What do you want?”
Young: “I came to kill you.”
Welles: “No Mary. It’s you that’s going to die. You were meant to fall through that ladder. You’re going to fall.”
Young: “I don’t mind. If I take you with me.”
Whoa! Loretta Young goes gangsta!
Who is the Stranger? Is it Eddie G. coming to town with bad tidings? Is it Welles, who’s never really part of the town. ( Welles as Rankin/Kindler is so dour and humorless in this movie I don’t see what attracted Loretta to him in the first place; not a bone of charm in his enitre curly-headed body. ) It’s not that she quite believes him hook, line and sinker. She comes from a loving and trusting place. It’s her misfortune that a man who trust no one, marries a woman who trusts everyone. “The Stranger” is well-directed and perfectly cast. I find Young believable and emotional in this role in one of the best performances of her career. She removes the veil from her eyes and it’s a thrilling, scary, sad and triumphant thing to see. See this movie ( asap ) and peruse through the rest of Loretta’s birthday blogathon ( hosted by The Young Sisters Appreciation Group and Cinema Dilettante and Now Voyaging ) for her performances in “The Farmer’s Daughter” “The Story of Alexander Graham Bell”…and much more to boot.
Happy Birthday, Loretta. You were a Star and an Actress.
[ H O M E ]