Lone Pine Film Festival, and it made quite an impression.
It's an unusual Western with some striking, powerful moments. My only quibble is that I wanted this 85-minute film to be longer, which isn't something I write very often.
STRANGER AT MY DOOR was directed by William Witney, whose son Jay was a guest at the festival. STRANGER AT MY DOOR was a film which was particularly special to the director.
The film is what some might call a "psychological Western." It's the story of a bank robber named Clay (Skip Homeier) who stumbles onto a parson's farm when his horse goes lame after his latest heist. The minister, Hollis Jarret (Macdonald Carey), quickly deduces who Clay is but has hopes he can break through to Clay with Christian kindness.
The minister has an energetic young son named Dodie (Stephen Wootton) from his first marriage, and a gorgeous second wife named Peg (Patricia Medina). The minister and his wife have a loving relationship yet Peg and Clay seem to feel an irresistible pull toward each other, which both thrills and terrifies Peg.
The story reaches its climax when the sheriff (Louis Jean Heydt) stops by and realizes Clay's identity. During the ensuing gunfight, the sheriff accidentally shoots Dodie. Clay, who has become attached to the boy, is shattered and determined to kill the sheriff, unless Hollis can stop him.
That description doesn't do justice to a rather unusual film. The film's centerpiece, in some ways, is a prolonged, nightmarish sequence in which a wild horse tears up much of the Jarrets' farm; I'm not sure I've ever seen anything quite like it. It's a remarkable piece of filmmaking.
The wild horse symbolizes Clay, as Hollis intends to tame both man and beast. Peg, however, fears both, and even tries to shoot the horse. She's ultimately unable to, just as she fears she'll be unable to fight her attraction to Clay.
Barry Shipman's story and screenplay left me wanting to know more: What brought Hollis and Peg together? Was it love, or was Peg looking for a safe haven? She seems delighted by her husband's attentions, including the gift of a new hat, and she rather ostentatiously kisses her husband more than once; are her feelings real, or is she trying to prove something to herself and show off to Clay? And does the minister ever regret having endangered his wife and son in his quest to save Clay?
There's a subtle moment late in the film when the minister realizes he came close to losing his wife and an equally subtle moment of reconciliation; what happened next in their relationship? A good movie is often one which causes the viewer to want to dig deeper, but in this case I wished that some of my questions had been answered more overtly in the film!
I suppose some might find the film's ending hokey, but I confess that I had a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye. It was lovely.
The movie was filmed in black and white by Bud Thackery.
After the screening, a brief video was shown of director Witney discussing training the very spirited horse for the prolonged action sequence which is one of the dramatic high points of the film. He said that they worked with the horse extensively every morning in preparation, and that a fake dog was used in some of the shots. (This is easily apparent at one moment in particular.) Witney described stuntman Joe Yrigoyen as the best in the business when it came to working with horses. I happened to find the video online for those who are interested.
STRANGER AT MY DOOR is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films.