RACHEL AND THE STRANGER
(director: Norman Foster; screenwriters: Waldo Salt/based on the story “Rachel” by Howard Fast; cinematographer: Maury Gertsman; editor: Les Millbrook; music: Roy Webb; cast: Loretta Young (Rachel), Robert Mitchum (Jim Fairways), William Holden (Dave Harvey), Gary Gray (Davey Harvey), Tom Tully (Parson Jackson), Sara Haden (Mrs. Jackson), Walter Baldwin (Gallus); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Richard H. Berger; RKO; 1948)
“The leisurely told cornball tale of frontier love makes for a pleasant and unassuming film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Norman Foster (“Journey into Fear”/The Great Sex War”/”The Green Hornet”) directs a fine Western that tells of hearty pioneers who made a home in the Ohio wilderness and conquered both nature and the unfriendly Shawnee Indians. It plays out as a romantic adventure and is written by Waldo Salt, who bases it on the story “Rachel” by Howard Fast.
In the mid-1800s, Big Davey Harvey (William Holden), an Ohio backwoodsman farmer living in isolation from the stockade, is all shook up to find himself a widower as his lovely Susan just passed on and left him with the responsibility of raising his young son Davey (Gary Gray). Feeling the need to have a woman look after the boy, to keep him from being all woodsy and uncultured, and to also do the household chores, Big Davey journeys to the stockade to hire a live-in housekeeper; but is told by Parson Jackson (Tom Tully) it wouldn’t look right for a man and woman to share the same house and the parson talks him into buying for eighteen dollars a bonds-woman named Rachel (Loretta Young) and making it all good by marrying her. It helps that Rachel is a knockout, can cook and is refined. Back in their small log cabin, Big Davey is awkward about the marriage and chooses to treat the hard-working Rachel as merely a housekeeper and someone who gives the boy Bible and school lessons without fulfilling his marriage vows to consummate the marriage in a biblical manner. The boy, in the meantime, so much misses his loving mom, that he unfairly treats the saintly Rachel in a gruff manner. It seems the grief is too great for the Harvey men to love Rachel properly, as they are still trying to deal with their loss.
The cabin is visited by the free-spirited guitar playing Indian scout and hunter Jim Fairways (Robert Mitchum), a longtime friend of Big Davey’s and a former rival for Susan’s affection. The friendly carefree bachelor Jim flirts with Rachel, brings a joy to the surroundings by his lively singing (he delightfully belts out the folk song, “O-he, O-hi, O-ho”) and makes Big Davey a jealous man. Jim’s actions make Big Davey and Davey see how much Rachel means to them and that they are not willing to let her go when Jim asks to buy her for his wife. What follows is a Shawnee Indian attack on Big Davey’s homestead and some heroics on the part of Rachel and Big Davie to come safely out of the raid and thereby cement their marriage. In the meantime, Jim goes with the stockade men to pursue the Indians in the woods.
The leisurely told cornball tale of frontier love makes for a pleasant and unassuming film. Rising star Mitchum got sudden notoriety after his Hollywood arrest for possession of marijuana and RKO, after some deliberation, rushed the film to a theater release to make hay out of the publicity for someone who already had a few films in the can. The strategy proved a good one, as the film got favorable reviews and did very well at the box office–thereby, probably, saving Mitchum’s acting career.
REVIEWED ON 11/9/2008 GRADE: B