'The Stranger,' in Classic, Cool Context

This Saturday at 9 p.m., KCET brings you the 1946 Orson Welles film "The Stranger." It's the latest entry in KCET's "Classic Cool Theater" series, which aims to give you not only a great film but also a vintage cartoon, two newsreels and an of-the-era musical number. All those extras add up to what makes "Classic Cool Theater" so special: context. In the spirit of this unique package, we're offering you a peek at the America -- and the Los Angeles -- that received the original "The Stranger" back on May 25, 1946.

Even the most cinematically ignorant person would know that "Citizen Kane" commands a great deal of respect among movie lovers. However, the more well-versed people who actually know that Rosebud is a sled might actually be surprised to hear that The Stranger" is Orson Welles' most profitable film. It's the tale of a Nazi war criminal hiding in an American everytown, and it's the only of Welles' oeuvre to make a profit upon its initial box office run. Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that American moviegoers would have been eager to exorcise their lingering World War II-era anxieties with this tale of despicable evil invisibly infiltrating our fair United States.

Check out this preview, featuring star Edward G. Robinson in hot pursuit of Nazi evil. It's suitably creepy.

So did "The Stranger" quell Americans' fears that there were covert Nazis in their midst? Judging by movies that followed it, probably not, even though the vast majority of fugitive Nazi higher-ups were captured far away from the U.S. It's a small subcategory of the thriller genre: the "Gasp! A Nazi in Our Midst!" movie. And while Welles didn't invent it -- notably, Robinson had starred in the 1939 propaganda film "Confessions of a Nazi Spy" -- his deft direction certainly helped shape the it, and films such as "Marathon Man," "Apt Pupil," "The Reader" and "The Debt" each invite comparisons to "The Stranger."

Take a Closer Look Back:

Check out this amazing light show:

ALL LIT UP: The lights of battleships, cruisers, air craft carriers, destroyers and other Navy craft throw a 40-minute display into night sky above Long Beach Los Angeles Harbor as Foreign Trade Week comes to close. -- May 27, 1946 (Photo: Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA library)

So what's the motivation for such a celebration? On May 27, 1946, the various battleships, cruisers, aircraft carriers, and naval destroyers lit up Long Beach Harbor for 40 minutes to mark the end of what was then called Foreign Trade Week. Today, it goes by the name World Trade Week, and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce kicked off the 86th World Trade Week just this Friday.

Check out some more pics from 1946:

Crowd waiting on Pacific Electric Railway platform during 1946 Los Angeles Transit Lines strike. -- May 1946 (Photo: Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA library)
'OPEN-AIR' ART: Alfredo Ramos Martinez, noted Mexican muralist, shows Natalie Browning of Santa Barbara, art student, his method of outdoor fresco work as he completes design for 100-foot panorama of Mexican types. -- May 4, 1946 (Photo: Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA library)
Actress Hedy LaMarr and John Loder in courtroom, confronting men suspected of robbing their house in Los Angeles, Calif., 1946 -- May 20, 1946 (Photo: Los Angeles Times photographic archive, UCLA library)

Los Angeles, the elevated city? In 1946, city planner Milton Breivogel received a novel proposal to eliminate congestion in the L.A. business district: moving all sidewalks up to the second story. No, really. Obviously, the plan was infeasible. But what an idea! Thanks to 1940s.org, You can actually see the entire proposal in PDF format here, and there are in fact illustrations of what the second-story city would have looked like.

Hands down, this is one of the coolest things you will see all week: color footage of a cruise through Los Angeles back in 1946. It was shot for an as-of-yet unidentified film. Do you recognize it? Look for landmarks such as the Olympic Theater, Clifton's Cafeteria and the Yorkshire Hotel. What else can you identify?


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