Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ooh, another MGM B picture

TCM is spending tomorrow showing a bunch of movies from 1952. These include one of those MGM B movies with a message that I've been mentioned a bit lately: Talk About a Stranger, airing at 7:30 AM tomorrow.

The scene is one of those orange-growing towns in southern California in the prosperous years after World War II. We have our typical all-American family: father George Murphy, mother Nancy Davis, and son Billy Gray -- and a kid on the way: mother is supposedly quite pregnant, although supposedly-pregnant women never looked very pregnant in the Hollywood movies of those days. Into this town comes a new resident, Dr. Mahler (Kurt Kasznar), who takes one of the old houses and mostly keeps to himself. This arouses a bit of suspicion, as the movie is set the sort of small town where everybody knows everybody else. The children, as children are wont to do, are particularly terrible in their gossip-mongering. Some of them try to visit his house and befriend him, but he just wants to be left alone.

Matters take a turn for the worse when the son's adopted stray mutt dies one day. It seems as though the dog may have been poisoned, and it's obvious to the kid that Dr. Mahler must have done it. I mean, how could anybody else have possibly been responsible for what there's not even a chance of having been an accident? If things are bad for the kids, it's about to get bad for the adults as well. A cold snap is on the way, and that means the possibility of frost, which would be devastating to the orange crop. It's off to set up the jerry-rigged heating system. But will Dr. Mahler hinder the orange growers?

Talk About a Stranger is like a lot of those MGM B movies in that it has a good premise, but it doesn't work as well as it should. It just seems so obvious that the movie is trying to tell us not to judge a book by its cover, and won't shut up about that message. Still, there are interesting scenes in the attempt, and Nancy Davis, who would of course go on to marry Ronald Reagan, is always worth a watch. I think both of the Reagans get an undeserved bum rap as "B-movie stars" because of Ronald's future political career. The thing is, Hollywood needed a lot of actors back in the days when they were making all those B pictures. Ronald and Nancy were both competent if not stellar, but given the right material, they could shine. If they had been 50 years younger, they probably both would have started their acting careers in episodic TV playing varoius supporting roles. Not necessarily big names, but steady careers.

I don't think Talk About a Stranger has gotten a DVD release, so you're going to have to catch the TCM showing if you want to see it.

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