(director: Roy Rowland; screenwriters: Isobel Lennart/William Kozlenko; cinematographer: Sidney Wagner; editor: Elmo Veron; music: Daniele Amfitheatrof/Nathaniel Shilkret; cast: Frank Morgan (John Josephus Grant), Richard Carlson (Bill Adams), Jean Rogers (Lucy Gilbert), Porter Hall (Judge Austin Harkley), Robert Barrat (Mayor Connison), Donald MacBride (Vinnie Z. Blaxton), Walter Baldwin (Tom Cooney), Andrew Tombes (Roscoe Swade), Chill Wills (Charles Craig), Irving Bacon (Orrin Todds); Runtime: 67; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert Sisk; MGM; 1943)

“Veteran character actor Frank Morgan gets a rare starring role and makes the best of it.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Veteran character actor Frank Morgan gets a rare starring role and makes the best of it. The former Wizard of Oz player plays a gruff Supreme Court associate justice with a soft heart. Roy Rowland (“Lost Angel”/”Many Rivers to Cross”/”Killer McCoy”) directs this above average programmer and writers Isobel Lennart and William Kozlenko make it a warm and lovable story.

Supreme Court judge John Josephus Grant (Frank Morgan) travels incognito as just Joe Grant to take a much needed duck hunting vacation in the little town of Crown Port. While hunting, the local fish & game warden, Constable Orrin Todds (Irving Bacon), tries to shake him down over not having a special permit. Rather than pay the bribe, Grant goes to court and gets fined $100. There he meets an unimpressive Judge Austin Harkley (Porter Hall), a bought man for City Hall, and a green but clean-cut and honest young lawyer, Bill Adams (Richard Carlson), who loses a case for a client being railroaded by the corrupt town because he’s too inexperienced. Grant becomes upset with all the injustices he sees in his brief visit and when he learns Bill is running for mayor against the crooked long-time Mayor Connison (Robert Barrat), he becomes his adviser.

When Grant’s pretty young secretary Lucy Gilbert (Jean Rogers) comes to Crown Port to deliver important papers, he asks her to help Bill. After an awkward start, a romance brews between Lucy and Bill. Soon the corrupt mayor realizes he has a real fight on his hands, and Bill’s side starts winning in court for the first time. It’s not until the end, does the shocked town and Bill learn who the stranger is. Now identified to everyone in the courtroom, Judge Grant delivers a stirring patriotic speech about “a government for the people, by the people” to an ovation from the people.Connison reacts with resigned dejection, knowing this is the end of his political career and the beginning of Bill’s political career.

Chill Wills plays Carlson’s campaign manager. Donald MacBride and Andrew Tombes are two corrupt businessmen who are part of the old mayor’s crooked machine.

Frank Morgan in A Stranger in Town (1943)