Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rachel and the Stranger

I'm somewhat surprised to see that I have not yet recommended the movie Rachel and the Stranger before. It's airing tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM ET on TCM, which is a good time to catch it.

William Holden plays David Harvey, a pioneer farmer who is widowed, and living with his young son. David's old hunter friend Jim (Robert Mitchum) comes along, and makes David realize that he could really use a woman around the house to raise the son right. So, David goes to the nearest fort town and finds Rachel (Loretta Young), a bondswoman working off her indentured servitude. David buys the contract, takes Rachel back to the wilderness, and marries her.

It's really just a marriage of convenience, though. Rachel tries to raise the son as best she can, but the son doesn't really respect her. Respect is all David and Rachel have for each other, as they haven't fallen in love at all. This causes big problems the next time Jim comes back. Rachel immediately falls for Jim, the way girls always fall for the "bad boy". Even though David hasn't really loved Rachel, he gets jealous, which leads to a lot of romantic tension.

What's the best way to deal with such tension in the old pioneer days? Have an Indian attack! All will be resolved as the three members of the love triangle, and the son, try to save the farm from the marauding Indians.

Reading over the plot, I see that the actors of the old days brought a lot to the movies they appeared in, and could often lift a movie just by their presence. Rachel and the Stranger is one such case. The plot is fairly standard stuff, and the Indians are foreshadowed; you know they're going to come back some day. Heck, you know when David and Rachel only have a businesslike relationship that Jim is going to be back, and that this would be the case even if he weren't being played by somebody with the stature of Robert Mitchum. Still, the three leads take what looks on the page like pedestrian, formulaic material, and turn it into something eminently entertaining.

Despite the presence of three reasonably big stars, Rachel and the Stranger has never been released to DVD. So, you'll have to tune in to one of the infrequent TCM showings.

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