Kindler was "just following orders" in dialogue torn form the concurrent War Crimes Trials and predating "Judgment at Nuremberg" by fully 15 years. And is it any surprise that, in the only class we get to hear him address, the lesson being taught is on Teutonic history?
At the time of "The Stranger's" release, it's fair to say there was hardly an interest in understanding the Nazis in subtle psychological terms. And yet, for its time and its mainstream aspirations, the film comes closer to touching on your preferred themes, Welles Fan, than it might otherwise have done. For example, look at Meineke's surprising revelation of his conversion to fundamentalist Christianity: it's absolutely plausible, pathetic, and virtually unheard of in connection with Nazi characters of the time.
And, by lodging the Third Reich's evil squarely in the centre of an unassuming New England town, the story warns its war-weary viewers that the combat might be over, but the fight is far from finished. How many other films of the era had the audacity to speculate that the Allies' worst nightmares might be hiding in plain sight - not in Argentina, but in America itself?
How many other films would think so casually to use an image of snow as both concealer and revealer in the same, poetic breath? With the likes of Welles and an uncredited John Huston adding their touches to it, it's not entirely a wonder, that the film was nominated for a Best Original Story Oscar.
At the risk of beating this horse to death, so many of the nuances and themes at work in this film only slip easily past today's audiences - not because they are banal - but because they have come to be taken up in later years by so many other films. To appreciate "The Stranger" it is far better to place it in the context of the other films of 1946 than it is to insist on judging it solely in relation to Welles' life's work.
Agreed, our man's performance is not the movie's strongest attribute; but his masterful handling of the long scene leading up to Meineke's murder is a delicious mix of menace, distraction, calculation, and even, briefly, regret. His premeditated and deceptive performance for Wilson later at the dinner table is an orgy of barely-concealed self-satisfaction and inner superiority. He has his moments, I say; and these are worth the price of admission. I do admit to a great disappointment, however, that a scant two years after "Double Indemnity", Edward G. Robinson's performance is rarely what it could have been - and I have nowhere to look for a share of the blame than to director Welles himself. Perhaps he never got beyond what Agnes Moorehead could have done in Robinson's stead. Much further along a similar vein, young Richard Long's unready and ultra-low-energy turn really had no business making onto the screen. Sedentary shopkeeper Billy House is a nice antidote to that, however, and Loretta Young rises skillfully and luminously to her occasions. A class act, that lady.
To say the look of the film is beguiling is hardly to say enough. Given the movie's modest aspirations, the noirish touches have little need to be there and yet there they are: the bright daylight that's still so cold and the clock shaft's interior rising expressionistically upwards to the heavens - or is it downwards into the concentric circles of Dante's Hell? The crane shots of the town, the glimpses of this perfect town of Harper framed through the imperfect glass of its main store's window, the Kane-like screening room wherein the Rankin/Kindler mystery, like the film in Wilson's portable projector, is about to come undone, and the sinister coagulating of the good people of Harper at the foot of the tower in response to the clock's reawakened chimes - the film certainly has its share of effective images.
I have already touched on the soundtrack, so no need to dwell on it except, perhaps, to refer to the scene of Rankin's abrupt heard-but-not-seen departure from Potter's store as he realizes his plan's demise. The timing is immaculate.
In the end, "The Stranger" might simply be Welles doing it by the book; but, by God, in his hands and on a variety of levels it is still one decidedly rewarding little book. IMHO, of course.