STARS IN MY CROWN(director: Jacques Tourneur; screenwriter: from the novel by Joe David Brown/Mr. Brown/Margaret Fitts; cinematographer: Charles Schoenbaum; editor: Gene Ruggiero; music: Adolph Deutsch; cast: Joel McCrea (Josiah Dozier Grey), Ellen Drew (Harriet Gray), Dean Stockwell (John Kenyon), Alan Hale (Jed Isbell), Lewis Stone (Dr. Daniel Kalbert Harris, Sr.), James Mitchell (Dr. Daniel Kalbert Harris, Jr.), Amanda Blake (Faith Samuels), Ed Begley (Lon Brackett), Juano Hernandez (Uncle Famous Prill), Charles Kemper (Prof. Sam Houston Jones), Marshall Thompson (Narrator), Jack Lambert (Perry Lokey), Arthur Hunnicutt (Chloroform Wiggins); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William H. Wright; MGM; 1950)
“A fine example of an old-fashioned heartwarming family film.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A fine example of an old-fashioned heartwarming family film set in the idealized southern community of Walesville just after the Civil War. It’s one of director Jacques Tourneur’s (“Cat People”/”Night of the Demon”/”Out of the Past”) more milder films that puts church life in the same pew as ordinary life, where there’s no great conflict over the rational and the supernatural. Protestantism is shown to be on the side of fairness and its parson is a totally good man, both subjects have rarely been shown in pictures in such a positively warm way.
It begins with a voiceover by John Kenyon as an adult (Marshall Thompson), played as a child by Dean Stockwell, as he relates how lucky he was to be raised in such a wonderful small town and how after his parents died he was adopted by his kindly Aunt Harriet (Ellen Drew) and her marvelously generous preacher husband Josiah Dozier Grey (Joel McCrea). “Stars” relates one hectic year in Walesville where the residents had to ride out the storms of a typhoid outbreak, superstition, greed, and the KKK.
The current church worshipers are gloriously singing the hymn “Stars In My Crown,” the parson’s favorite, and Kenyon’s voicever takes us via flashback to a time when the parson arrived in Walesville in 1865 after fighting for the Confederacy. He walks into the town’s saloon to announce that he’s the new parson and will preach his first sermon there, as he backs his biblical words up by showing his six-shooters. Soon he gets the entire town on his side and they build their first community church. He sweeps Harriet off her feet and they marry, as young John is raised by them as their own. Trouble brews when the greedy owner of the general store Lon Brackett (Ed Begley) wants to purchase the good-natured, freed Negro, Uncle Famous Prill’s (Juano Hernandez) land because a mining vein is discovered running through it that corresponds with his current mine. When Uncle does not want to sell, Brackett threatens him and carries out his promise by wrecking his farm. But the preacher’s Civil War soldier friend, the farmer, Jed Isbell (Alan Hale), and his six grown children restore the farm.
During the visit of a traveling carnival magician (Charles Kemper), John passes out and is brought for treatment to young Dr. Harris (James Mitchell), who diagnoses it as typhoid. Doc returned to town when his popular doctor father died and he was encouraged to take over the practice, but though a competent doctor he had a sour personality that scared the locals away. Through falling in love with the attractive single school teacher (Amanda Blake) and the trusting friendship of the parson, the young doctor changes and becomes accepted. But he errs into thinking the preacher is a carrier of the disease, as the source of the poison water can’t be found as many in the town come down with the disease and die. John is strong and soon recovers but out of guilt and thinking the doctor might be right, the parson closes the doors of the church and isolates himself rather than chance he might be responsible for spreading the disease.
But when the poisoned water is discovered, a greater poison spreads in town. Brackett’s men come in the night robed in hoods as the KKK and attempt to lynch Uncle Famous, as the only help offered Uncle is by Jed and his sons willing to shoot it out with the mob. The parson takes a more peaceful tact and bluffs the KKK out by standing before them and shaming them to call off the lynch party, after reading a phony will that cedes all Uncle’s land and property to them upon his death.
The film is noteworthy for its firm stand against racism and its strong Civil Rights stand in the post-war period, which is well before that movement gained momentum.
REVIEWED ON 11/6/2003 GRADE: B +
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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