Joel McCrea, was born 109 years ago today in Pasadena, California. What better way to celebrate his birthday than by watching the film he considered his favorite, STARS IN MY CROWN (1950)?
Somehow, despite my great fondness for McCrea, I'd yet to see STARS IN MY CROWN. I made sure I'd finally see it this year by putting it on my list of 10 Classics to watch in 2014.
As expected, STARS IN MY CROWN proved to be a rich, moving piece of Americana which takes its place alongside CANYON PASSAGE (1946) as one of my favorite films from director Jacques Tourneur.
CAT PEOPLE (1942) and I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943)! (The latter film, incidentally, starred McCrea's wife, Frances Dee.) Yet although McCrea, playing a minister, must constantly battle fear, weariness, and downright evil, goodness always prevails.
STARS IN MY CROWN is the story of life in a small town in the years after the Civil War, mostly as seen through the eyes of young John Kenyon (Dean Stockwell, perfect as always). John is being raised by his Aunt Harriet (Ellen Drew) and her husband Josiah (Joel McCrea), the town parson.
Juano Hernandez, who was so good in TRIAL (1955), plays Uncle Famous, a black man the nasty storekeeper (Ed Begley Sr.) tries to force to sell his land.
The parson must face down a lynch mob who come for Uncle Famous in the film's climatic sequence. Along the way there is also a serious typhoid epidemic which tests both the parson and the doctor.
John's childhood is in some ways idyllic, fishing with Uncle Famous and riding in a hay wagon with his friend Chase (Norman Ollestad), secure in the love of his aunt and uncle; but after nearly dying of typhoid, John also experiences hunger when the townspeople quit supporting the parson during a quarantine, and he's an eyewitness to the near-lynching of his beloved Uncle Famous. He also learns a tremendous life lesson when he sees how the parson disperses the mob without a shot fired.
James Mitchell, who had previously costarred with McCrea in COLORADO TERRITORY (1949), is really fine as the doctor who starts out as a huffy know-it-all, gradually revealing more layers underneath as he grows and matures while caring for the townspeople. Mitchell was a very talented man, being a fine dancer as well as an actor.
The screenplay of this 89-minute film was by Joe David Brown, based on his novel. This was one of the last films shot by Charles Schoenbaum, who died in 1951.
STARS IN MY CROWN is available on DVD in a remastered print from the Warner Archive. The disc includes the trailer; Joel McCrea's introduction was filmed on his ranch.
This is a special film which I know will reward repeat viewings by revealing additional details and insights. Highly recommended.
Jacques Tourner films previously reviewed at Laura's Miscellaneous Musings: NICK CARTER, MASTER DETECTIVE (1939), PHANTOM RAIDERS (1940), CAT PEOPLE (1942), I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE (1943), THE LEOPARD MAN (1943), EXPERIMENT PERILOUS (1944), CANYON PASSAGE (1946), EASY LIVING (1949), CIRCLE OF DANGER (1951), STRANGER ON HORSEBACK (1955), WICHITA (1955), and NIGHTFALL (1957).
Related post: Book Review: Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall.