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Subtext in THE STRANGER (1946)

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To get ready for the upcoming airing of Orson Welles' THE STRANGER on TCM-- airing as part of the Projected Image series on Tuesday September 9th-- I have been reading comments about the film on the IMDB. This morning I inadvertently stumbled across an array of comments that the story has a gay subtext running throughout. I hadn't looked at it that way before, but the more I think about it-- I am inclined to agree it's there.

 

One poster over there laid out very specific reasons that such a subtext exists within the film and that it can be interpreted thusly. I messaged him and said I felt his comments were on target.

 

I think Welles was conscious of the gay subtext, because for the reasons the poster so clearly outlined, it seems obvious Welles is using religion and small-town secrecy as a means of addressing a community's so-called great hidden evils-- and I think the likelihood that men were having sex with each other on the down-low in 1946 and entering into sham marriages with women as camouflage may be greater than actual Nazi war criminals taking up residence in America's towns.

 

And any man hiding his homosexuality from his wife would certainly be a stranger to her. If this is a correct reading of the subtext, then Welles has done a masterful job of telling a powerful story and subverting the production code.

 

I'm interested in hearing what others think about this great post-war classic...

 

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To get ready for the upcoming airing of Orson Welles' THE STRANGER on TCM-- airing as part of the Projected Image series on Tuesday September 9th-- I have been reading comments about the film on the IMDB. This morning I inadvertently stumbled across an array of comments that the story has a gay subtext running throughout. I hadn't looked at it that way before, but the more I think about it-- I am inclined to agree it's there.
 

Thanks for pointing that out. I haven't seen the film for many years -- before I was sharp enough to notice subtexts. And of course with a director like Welles, there should be a number of hints/symbols.  I Married a Monster from Outer Space, a sci-fi film about a newlywed man who would prefer to hang around with other men in the park, is another example (there are many). But I'm looking forward to The Stranger!

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Thanks for pointing that out. I haven't seen the film for many years -- before I was sharp enough to notice subtexts. And of course with a director like Welles, there should be a number of hints/symbols.  I Married a Monster from Outer Space, a sci-fi film about a newlywed man who would prefer to hang around with other men in the park, is another example (there are many). But I'm looking forward to The Stranger!

In December I temporarily relocated to the midwest and I had sent a box ahead containing some rarely watched DVDs. When I finally got around to opening the box in April or May I found a Laserlight series set with three Orson Welles classics-- THE TRIAL (which recently aired on TCM for Jeanne Moreau's SUTS tribute); MR. ARKADIN (a truly strange disjointed film); and THE STRANGER. Tony Curtis (in the late 90s) does the wraparound segments and I wondered how he would have been considered qualified to know Welles' directing since he never worked with him-- perhaps he hung around the set of TOUCH OF EVIL when his then-wife Janet Leigh was filming that movie.

 

Anyway, I looked at all three films-- and THE STRANGER really caught my attention. First, for a cheap boxed set (purchased at Costco), it was a surprisingly good print and I was mesmerized by all the detail Welles put into this picture. I think Loretta Young and Edward G. Robinson-- and Richard Long-- are all effectively used. But most of all, I love the fact that most of it is filmed on location and you really do get the sense this is happening in some sleepy New England village. 

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Since you asked,Baloney. THE STRANGER is about a nazi-war criminal and a man determined to hunt him down. Or don't you think that topic was serious enough? Reading another agenda into the film is over analyzing and I think anyone associated with the film would also feel that way.

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Since you asked,Baloney. THE STRANGER is about a nazi-war criminal and a man determined to hunt him down. Or don't you think that topic was serious enough? Reading another agenda into the film is over analyzing and I think anyone associated with the film would also feel that way.

 

I asked Rock Hudson and he sees the subtext TB is talking about.

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So you're comment tells us what? Love to hear you explain that comment LOL

 

Now you're over analyzing.   It was a joke.   I hope I don't have to explain Rock's marriage. 

 

But I do see the point you were making;  People do tend to see things in films or song lyrics,  based on their own upbringing, that the creator of the work never intented.

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I thought you might be joking but since there wasn't the usual :)  after the comment wanted to make sure. So, you agree with me then. THE STRANGER was an important post-war film, and it's message was strong enough obviously to stand on it's own without adding a sub-text that was NOT there to begin with.

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  People do tend to see things in films or song lyrics,  based on their own upbringing, that the creator of the work never intented.

 

Most people look at The Manchurian Candidate and see a film about a foreign power trying to infiltrate the highest reaches of government, or, at minimum, the possibility we could elect an incompetent to be President (which, of course, we all know would never happen). As for me, I see a very long commercial for Heinz ketchup.

 

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I thought you might be joking but since there wasn't the usual :)  after the comment wanted to make sure. So, you agree with me then. THE STRANGER was an important post-war film, and it's message was strong enough obviously to stand on it's own without adding a sub-text that was NOT there to begin with.

 

The fact The Stranger was a post-war film and the issue of hidden nazi war crimimals was still a relevant topic leads me to beleive there was NOT some other subtext.

 

In order for me to believe there was some gay life choice subtext I would have to research if Welles felt strongly about gay rights, had gay friends that had to hide their identity etc...    i.e. something in his background that might lead him to include such a subtext.

 

It all come down to intent.   So yea,  the odds that Welles intented to have such a subtext are remote unless I knew Welles had such an agenda.

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That's the thing about a really great work of art- be it a song, movie, picture, etc.- it never means one thing, it has multiple translations- even those that it maybe didn't intend to have at the time it was made.  And it never stops being pertinent to the world of today because its truths are universal; and it does what is so hard to do- it captures and accurately represents the oddities, hypocrisies, joys, terrors, etc. of this crazy thing called life, which isn't so terribly different now from what it was forty, fifty, sixty years ago. (at least I don't think so, not that I was around or anything.)

 

I don't really see "the gay thing" in The Stranger, but to expand on the "unintended translation" theme by using another example-  I do see an absolute parallel between Now, Voyager and the "coming out" experience of some- this, in all likelihood, is not what Bette Davis and co. intended back in 1942, but it's there, and how I (and others) personally read into it isn't something you can control (as much as some of you would apparently like it to be.)

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That's the thing about a really great work of art- be it a song, movie, picture, etc.- it never means one thing, it has multiple translations- even those that it maybe didn't intend to have at the time it was made.  And it never stops being pertinent to the world of today because its truths are universal; and it does what is so hard to do- it captures and accurately represents the oddities, hypocrasies, joys, terrors, etc. of this crazy thing called life, which isn't so terribly different now from what it was forty, fifty, sixty years ago.

 

I don't really see "the gay thing" in The Stranger, but I so see an absolute parallel between Now, Voyager and the "coming out" experience some go through- in all likelihood not what Bette Davis and co. intended back in 1943, but it's there, and how I (and others) rfead it isn't something you can control (as much as some of you would like it to be.)

Yes, I see your point about NOW VOYAGER and I've looked at the film that way also. But your last comment, NO ONE wants to control the way anyone sees something. An opinion was asked how others felt about the OP's interpretation by the OP,so it's been answered by a few of us. That's NOT controlling anything. If the OP didn't want others to respond to his opinion, he should not have asked us to answer.

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That's the thing about a really great work of art- be it a song, movie, picture, etc.- it never means one thing, it has multiple translations- even those that it maybe didn't intend to have at the time it was made.  And it never stops being pertinent to the world of today because its truths are universal; and it does what is so hard to do- it captures and accurately represents the oddities, hypocrasies, joys, terrors, etc. of this crazy thing called life, which isn't so terribly different now from what it was forty, fifty, sixty years ago.

 

I don't really see "the gay thing" in The Stranger, but I so see an absolute parallel between Now, Voyager and the "coming out" experience some go through- in all likelihood not what Bette Davis and co. intended back in 1943, but it's there, and how I (and others) rfead it isn't something you can control (as much as some of you would like it to be.)

 

Now Voyager is a great example of where there wasn't any intent to have a 'coming out' story as it relates to how the term is mostly used today,   but the parallels are there and very strong.      I help some young gay men that have issues with their parents as it relates to coming out.   I'm going to advise them to watch Now Voyager.    Why I never saw the parallel until you pointed it out just shows that one can be clueless unless they are having such experiences.

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Is there some subtext to Paul Henreid lighting a pair of cigarettes? 

Well there is certainly a subtext to George Macready's walking stick in Gilda, a movie with a gay subtext so obvious that It's hard to call it a subtext. Now I'm really looking forward to The Stranger, and the discussion!

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Yes, I see your point about NOW VOYAGER and I've looked at the film that way also. But your last comment, NO ONE wants to control the way anyone sees something. An opinion was asked how others felt about the OP's interpretation by the OP,so it's been answered by a few of us. That's NOT controlling anything. If the OP didn't want others to respond to his opinion, he should not have asked us to answer.

lavender,

 

Let's be clear. This was not necessarily my own interpretation. It was the interpretation of a poster on the IMDB (named stratorick), and I said that I can see where it may have some merit.

 

Here is the text of what stratorick posted (note the one thing I disagree with is that the writer suggests Welles was unconscious of the gay subtext but my belief is that if it's there, it would have been consciously embedded because Welles never did anything unintentionally):

 

...As a gay man many of the themes brought out in the story resonated with my life and probably with many others. Hiding, persecution, self loathing, fear of discovery, sham marriages to "pass" or "cover". Wells character describes his future wife as the "perfect camouflage". The religious overlay as exemplified by Meinekie's attempts to "convert" Kindler from his evil past. There are other, more subtle, codes woven into the plot (intentional or not) such as antique dealers which was an oft used old symbols for homosexuals in films. Also in Potters response to Wilson's inquiries about "other dealers in town" Potter replies finally that Meinekie might be one of "them" and the description of Meinekie as having a "quee-r kinda walk".

 

I also find it interesting that at the local soda shop/pharmacy, indeed throughout the film, one only sees handsome young men in each others company never on the arm of a girl. With the exception of the single scene of the cute girl walking by Raskin and the athletes the only really beautiful female symbol in the entire movie is Loretta Young! (later a gay icon). Lastly Wilson's response to Noah that "you can't always help who you fall in love with" One must also never forget that paradoxically though early Nazi "brown shirts" were rife with homosexuals many gays were put into and died in Nazi Concentration camps. 

 

Having said all this I do not believe the homosexual subtext was intentional but it is there none the less, perhaps from Wells himself. This film deserves close examination as there are many, many beautiful scenes which lend themselves to multiple interpretations, after all isn't that what art is all about?...  

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Well there is certainly a subtext to George Macready's walking stick in Gilda, a movie with a gay subtext so obvious that It's hard to call it a subtext. Now I'm really looking forward to The Stranger, and the discussion!

 

Many noir and crime films have a gay subtext.  The basic reason is that when involved in crime the less people in the know,  the better.  So having women around that serve no purpose,  as it relates to the crimes being committed,   is dangerous.   The Big Combo is a noir that makes this point in a fairly obvious manner.

 

Gilda clearly has a 'no women' involved theme as part of the relationship between the two leading men,   but I don't see where it is implied either of the men had sexual relations with other men.  Of course they also don't show them having any feeling for women other than Gilda.

 

As for The Stranger;   TB said this:  If this is a correct reading of the subtext, then Welles has done a masterful job of telling a powerful story and subverting the production code.

 

To me that statement implies that Welles intented the gay subtext and subverted the Production Code in order to do so (by using hidden nazis instead).   I question if that is the case NOT if there is a gay subtext that others find in the movie regardless of Welles intent.

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I don't really see "the gay thing" in The Stranger, but to expand on the "unintended translation" theme by using another example-  I do see an absolute parallel between Now, Voyager and the "coming out" experience of some- this, in all likelihood, is not what Bette Davis and co. intended back in 1942, but it's there, and how I (and others) personally read into it isn't something you can control (as much as some of you would apparently like it to be.)

TB

 

Let's be clear, my post was responding to the one I cited above about "control" . james, scsu seem to agree with me and  none of us had intention of controlling what others read into a film. Our opinion is that that sub-text is NOT there in THE STRANGER, and I think we are entitled to that opinion without an accusation of "controlling" what others may read into a film

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TB

 

Let's be clear, my post was responding to the one I cited above about "control" . james, scsu seem to agree with me and  none of us had intention of controlling what others read into a film. Our opinion is that that sub-text is NOT there in THE STRANGER, and I think we are entitled to that opinion without an accusation of "controlling" what others may read into a film

Okay...so it seems like your issue was with Lorna's comment which you subsequently quoted? Is that a fair assessment? Personally, I did not see anyone trying to control anything, just offering up multiple interpretations.

 

On another note, you did post this earlier in the thread:

 

An opinion was asked how others felt about the OP's interpretation by the OP

 

I just wanted to be clear that I have not offered up an interpretation of THE STRANGER yet-- though I do see a lot of merit in the comments I included that were originally written by stratorick on the IMDB.

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Thanks to TB for posting the original text.   Interesting POV.   But I do see a contradiction where the poster says he doesn't believe the subtext was intentional but then adds 'perhaps from Welles himself'.     I don't see anything written that backs up the 'perhaps from Welles himself' comment.  

 

Having said all this I do not believe the homosexual subtext was intentional but it is there none the less, perhaps from Wells himself.

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Exactly, that comment about control was unecessary and incorrect.

 

As far as you agreeing or seeing merit in the post made by someone on imdb about the gay subtext in THE STRANGER, that's your prerogative of course. Just don't agree with that interpretation and I'll go a little further, it's an important post-war film about a very serious subject and I believe that was the intent of the film, a war criminal and a determined man's effort to capture him, and looking for sub-texts that aren't there to most is losing sight of what this excellent film was really about.

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Exactly, that comment about control was unecessary and incorrect.

 

As far as you agreeing or seeing merit in the post made by someone on imdb about the gay subtext in THE STRANGER, that's your perogative of course. Just don't agree with that interpretation and I'll go a little further, it's an important post-war film about a very serious subject and I believe that was the intent of the film, a war criminal and a determined man's effort to capture him, and looking for sub-texts that aren't there to most is losing sight of what this excellent film was really about.

 

While I agreed with you about the intent of the film,  I don't agree with you as it relates to the interpretation of a gay subtext.   I can clearly see why anyone that had to live a life of a lie and be a stranger, so to speak,  to those that love them, could have such an interpretation.

 

The major difference I see is that being a nazi war crimimal was a character flaw (and therefore something one would wish to hide),  while being gay is not  (and one would only hide that because of unjust pressure from others).

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Being a nazi criminal, and his character was a powerful man in the nazi regime, is a character flaw???? a gross understatement. Oh c'mon now, then according to your post any film where someone is a criminal or hiding their identity for some reason from the community could be said to have a gay subtext.

 

If that's what the poster on imdb got out of THE STRANGER then so be it. I think he picked the wrong film to make that comparision.

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I will wait until I see the film before I weigh in, but I do want to make two points:

 

1. If Welles used Nazism as a metaphor/stand-in for being gay, that would say something pretty damning about how Welles felt about gays. He could have chosen another method. 

 

2. Great (and no-so-great) directors used metaphor and symbol to say things they couldn't say right out in the movie; and even if they could say it, symbolism is more elegant, as a Renaissance painter might use a particular bird, or flower, to symbolize something in the corner of a painting.

 

So I have no idea yet as to whether there is a gay theme under the radar; I do know that many people who are NOT gay NEVER want to see gay subtexts in movies, particularly in movies that they like. But since homosexuality was "the love that dared not speak its name" in Hollywood films, the subtext was VERY often the way of referring to it, and it isn't always easy to spot.

 

And yes -- it's often there, even in your favorite movies, straight people!

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Yes Swithin what you write may be true in some cases, HOWEVER, not in all films where someone is hiding their identity, that is a stretch. As you wrote comparing a gay person to a nazi war criminal would be pretty damning and I seriously doubt that was Welles intention. And that my friend, was also the subtext in my last post  :)

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