Saturday, June 14, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Strange Lady in Town (1955) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

Greer Garson and Dana Andrews are sparring doctors in the old Southwest in STRANGE LADY IN TOWN (1955), just released by the Warner Archive.

STRANGE LADY IN TOWN is one of four recent Garson DVDs from the Archive; the others are DESIRE ME (1947) with Robert Mitchum, THE LAW AND THE LADY (1951) with Michael Wilding and Fernando Lamas, and SCANDAL AT SCOURIE (1953) with Walter Pidgeon, which I just reviewed.

STRANGE LADY IN TOWN was Garson's first film after the end of her long association with MGM. It reunited her with director Mervyn LeRoy, who had directed her in MGM's BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST (1941), MADAME CURIE (1943), and DESIRE ME (1947); LeRoy did uncredited work on the latter film, which infamously had several directors yet not one took screen credit.

Garson plays Dr. Julia Winslow Garth, who feels unaccepted in the East and decides to seek a new life near Santa Fe, New Mexico, where her brother, Lt. David Garth (Cameron Mitchell), is stationed.

Julia is immediately befriended by teenaged Carlotta O'Brien (Lois Smith), nicknamed "Spurs," but she clashes with Spurs' father, Dr. Rourke O'Brien (Andrews). The stubborn, mercurial O'Brien believes a woman has no business being a doctor, yet he can't help being attracted to Julia. One minute he fights with her, the next he finds another excuse to spend time with her.

Julia's life takes a tragic turn when David, who has a knack for getting into trouble, goes AWOL and falls in with a group of outlaws.

Any film with Garson and Andrews on screen most of the running time is going to be worth watching, and that's the case with STRANGE LADY IN TOWN. They each play headstrong characters who simultaneously admire and dislike one another, and it's always a question whether hatred or attraction will win out in the end.

Andrews' character is particularly fascinating in that he enthusiastically portrays quite an imperfect man, who is simultaneously a bossy chauvinist and a principled knight in shining armor. Julia never knows what to expect next from Rourke, nor does the viewer.

While the film is interesting enough, it suffers from abrupt shifts in tone and story; what happened to the man David shot at the gambling table, anyway, and what about the disturbed young woman? The film is all over the map emotionally, playing as comedy in the early scenes but with disturbing scenes of mob violence near the end.

The film never quite fires on all cyclinders, but it does have an unforgettably brilliant shot near the end, when David kisses Spurs. With her hair streaming wildly, the viewer -- and David -- suddenly glimpses the woman she's become, yet it's too late for David to have a life with her. This was the second film for Lois Smith, who had previously appeared in EAST OF EDEN (1955); she turned 25 the year this film was released, and she is still actively acting today.

There's also a beautifully staged birthday sequence. The film has some memorable moments, but it simply needed a somewhat more coherent, smoothly told, and compelling story. (The script of this 112-minute film was by Frank Butler.) That said, fans of Garson, Andrews, and Westerns will probably find it worth the investment of time, as I did.

The supporting cast also included Walter Hampden, Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, Robert J. Wilke, Russell Johnson, Gregory Walcott, Nick Adams, and Douglas Kennedy. Adele Jergens has just a couple of scenes as the owner of a saloon.

Like so many films of the '50s, STRANGE LADY IN TOWN starts with a theme song, in this case Frankie Laine singing a song by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington.

The movie was filmed on location at Old Tucson, shot in WarnerColor and CinemaScope by Harold Rosson.

The widescreen Warner Archive DVD is a good-looking print. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.

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