Welles burst into the public eye as a wunderkind, and saw great popularity in theatre in the late 30’s. He appeared on the radio, with his infamous “The War of the Worlds” experience being just one of his many escapades. And he of course new great success with Citizen Kane. However, from the start, he had an uneasy relationship with Hollywood. His politics, which included rumors of communist activities, and his antagonism toward film benefactor William Randolph Hearst, caused him such unpopularity that he was booed at the Oscar ceremony at which Kane was nominated for many awards. Within the studios themselves, he started as an outsider and became a full-blown pariah. His career with RKO started with false starts on two projects, with a third, It’s All True running aground. Even when his projects went to fruition, they were always past deadline and over budget.
So he wasn’t in any demand as a director from 1943-’45. He spent most of that time on his own projects, including a few radio shows. However, at the outset of 1945, he was offered a part by producer Sam Spiegel in an adaptation of Victor Trivas’s The Stranger. In fact, it was the lead role, that of the Nazi, Professor Charles Rankin, and he accepted. He then asked Spiegel to allow him direct. While Spiegel knew the dangers he would be in by doing so, he also didn’t want to lose Welles as an actor in the film, so he relented.
Edward G. Robinson and Loretta Young came aboard in key roles, and John Huston is said to have come aboard to help Welles re-write the script (as noted above, Veiller does get credit for the screenplay).
Remarkably, at least as reported by biography Barbara Leaming, Welles behaved during production, staying on budget and on deadline. Leaming recounts that Welles was careful to be sure to shoot Robinson from his best side, as requested, and to indulge Young’s installation of a “swear jar” on set meant to keep the crew’s language G-rated.
The film entered the public with some fanfare, but hasn’t gone down in history as any particular high point in cinema at the time or in Welles’ illustrious career.