Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Rachel and the Stranger (1948) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The excellent film RACHEL AND THE STRANGER (1948) has just been released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

The best news of all is that the film has had 12 minutes restored which probably haven't been seen since the film was first released, and it now runs its original 93 minutes.

A much-shortened rerelease version has been shown on TV for decades; it had been a number of years since I last saw that edit of the film so I'm not completely sure what had been missing. (At some point I plan to pull out a recording from Turner Classic Movies and do a comparison.) That said, I definitely had a sense that the film played much more smoothly than in my past viewings. I've always liked the movie, but this was the most I've ever enjoyed it.

As the film begins, frontier farmer Big Davey (William Holden) is mourning the passing of his wife Susan. After a cold, lonely winter with his little boy Davey (Gary Gray), the overwhelmed Big Davey decides to head for the closest fort in search of a wife. Little Davey needs a mother to school him, and one adult simply isn't enough to do all the work necessary for the survival of a frontier homestead.

He finds a wife in Rachel (Loretta Young), an indentured servant; he pays off her debt, and they are married by the parson (the always-wonderful Tom Tully).

For many months the new family work well together doing the necessary chores, but Rachel is quiet and shy, Big Davey is lost in his memories, and Little Davey resents another woman taking his mother's place. Big Davey and Rachel have a distant relationship in every way, with Big Davey bunking down by the fireplace or with his son.

And then Big Davey's friend Jim (Robert Mitchum) strolls along for a visit and is quite taken with Rachel, who blossoms with someone finally paying attention to her.

A delicately played love triangle develops, as Jim attempts to woo away the married-in-name-only Rachel and Big Davey begins to feel jealousy. A frightening Indian attack near movie's end also serves to clarify relationships once and for all.

RACHEL AND THE STRANGER grabbed my attention from the opening scenes and never let go; I've seen it multiple times over the years but had forgotten how good it was -- or perhaps it was simply better with all its original footage. Either way, the movie was a treat, sensitively directed by Young's brother-in-law, former actor Norman Foster. Foster was long married to Young's older sister Elizabeth Jane, known professionally as Sally Blane.

Longtime readers know that Loretta Young is just about my favorite actress, and this film is a great example of why I so enjoy her work. Her Rachel may be quiet and somewhat beaten down by life at the outset, but she's also got courage and gumption, including secretly teaching herself how to shoot a rifle in the cellar -- a skill which will later come in handy on multiple occasions.

Young communicates a great deal nonverbally, including her uncertainty and aching loneliness; once Jim arrives and she shares her previously hidden musical talent, it's as though Rachel begins to glow. Perhaps studio lighting had something to do with it, but I believe it mostly came from Young's performance. The drawn, worn-down woman of the early scenes is revealed to have lovely looks which are a match for her fine character.

Holden does a good job as the stoic Big Davey, who finally begins to unbend in the later scenes, though he risks having the movie stolen by the dashing Mitchum. This is the second of Mitchum's 1948 Westerns just released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive, the other being BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948); whereas in BLOOD ON THE MOON Mitchum plays a taciturn, troubled "loose rider," here his drifter is relaxed and clearly enjoying life. Mitchum also has ample opportunities to display his fine singing voice.

Gray, a busy child actor for many years, is fine as the troubled little boy missing his mother. The cast also includes favorite character actors Sara Haden and Frank Ferguson.

RACHEL AND THE STRANGER was filmed in black and white by Maury Gertsman. The strong screenplay was written by Waldo Salt from a story by Howard Fast.

The Blu-ray print and sound quality are excellent. The disc also includes a trailer.

Recommended.

July 2020 Update: The Warner Archive has now also released this film on DVD.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

6 Comments:

Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Rachel and the Stranger has grown more important to me over the years and I had no idea about the missing 12 minutes. I am so excited about this release. Thanks, Laura.

6:08 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Mitchum far more winning than Holden in this and the sanctimonious conclusion, unsatisfactory, but Loretta Young is a worthwhile prize.

10:00 AM  
Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

I MUST see this!

1:35 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you all can check out this Blu-ray -- I enjoyed it so much. Great print and it's such a smooth storyline now with the missing footage restored.

Thank you all for sharing your thoughts!

Best wishes,
Laura

1:41 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Great review! Looking forward to seeing the restored version; Young has always been a favourite. As to Tully, i am amazed his small part in the Caine Mutiny was nominated for an Academy Award over the likes of Jose Ferrer or Van Johnson (just from that film alone). Edmond O'Brien would win for the Barefoot Countessa, with Cobb, Steiger and Malden the other competition. Here's an interesting article about the actor and the mystery regarding the Walk of Fame star that apparently he never knew he had: https://www.latimes.com/socal/daily-pilot/entertainment/tn-wknd-et-tom-tully-hollywood-walk-of-fame-actor-20190710-story.html

12:07 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks very much for sharing that interesting article on Tom Tully; I hadn't seen it before and will include it in this week's link roundup.

My favorite Tully roles include his parts in I'LL BE SEEING YOU (1944) and ARROW IN THE DUST (1954). He also had a small but memorable part in CHARLEY VARRICK (1973).

Best wishes,
Laura

1:18 PM  

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