Episode 36: The Stranger (1946, Orson Welles) / Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (2001, Kevin Smith)

Kevin Smith and Orson Welles have a lot in common. Firstly, they’ve both written and directed many of their own films. Secondly, they star in their own films. Thirdly, they like to eat. Okay, so they have three things in common.

The Stranger is quizzically one of Welles’ lesser known works despite being one of his most accessible. In a plot seemingly inspired by Hitchcock’s Shadow Of A Doubt, Welles himself portrays a Nazi war criminal hiding undetected in the milieu of small town America while plotting his future schemes. He’s so evil he kicks dogs! Hot on his trail is Edward G. Robinson, who nyaah sees through his perfect American accent and begins to turn the screws on Welles’ newly married bride, the lovely Loretta Young. When confronted, Welles strings her along as long as he can. But for how long?

Many sophisticated crane and tracking shots distinguish this modestly budgeted thriller as a warmup for later Welles classics such as Touch Of Evil. Despite his own dismissal the project as mere work for hire – which it certainly is – work for hire from Orson Welles amounts to an entertaining thriller easily in league with any other. While Robinson’s character is not particularly developed, Young’s is a minor masterpiece of tragic love for a man she has begun to understand is bad without fathoming the true extent of his evil. Welles does not give so much as a single noble quality to his beast.

Unlike a work-for-hire job, Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back is nothing less than one man’s completely unwarranted magnum ode to himself. Back in 2001, Miramax was far from bankruptcy and was actually willing to fund such folly. This is 22 million dollars they probably wish they had back right now. Smith has never been a serious moneymaker screenwriter on the level of, say, Joe Eszterhas or Shane Black, but what he lacked in misogyny he made up for with good casting, unpretentious comedy and the cutting edge gimmick of having his characters talk about Star Wars and Marvel comics for no reason.

His accumulated goodwill as the comic writer-director for geeks in the 90s finally put him over into the mainstream with Dogma. Then he had a choice to make. Either branch out beyond his New Jersey buddy comedy that began with Clerks five years earlier, or do more of the same. Promising to his lovingly patronized merchandise-consuming online fan following that Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back would be the final film in that mold – replete with cameos by the characters of each previous film – he wrote a stream of consciousness ripoff of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure starring himself. Then he broke his promise with Clerks 2 after Jersey Girl bombed.

We give a little extra time in this episode to his evisceration, but only because we were once fans ourselves.