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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

STARS IN MY CROWN (1950)

A slice of pastoral Americana from an unlikely source, noir and psychological-horror master Jacques Tourneur (OUT OF THE PAST/’47; CAT PEOPLE/’42). In truth, folksy backwoods bucolic stumps him at first, but the film gathers interest as it goes along, smoothly building up dramatic angles without overselling the small town epiphanies. Joel McCrea’s the new preacher in town, an ex-Civil War soldier not ashamed to flaunt a gun or dirty his hands to get the job done. Before long, he’s found a no-nonsense match in Ellen Drew and informally adopted her orphaned nephew (Dean Stockwell). Over the course of a hazy summer, a new Doc tries to fill his father’s beloved shoes (James Mitchell angry & off-key); an outbreak of typhoid will test the conflicting beliefs of Doctor & Pastor; and the town’s favorite black ‘uncle’ (Juano Hernandez) will be under pressure to sell his property for a new mineral mine. Tourneur finds his groove in the second half, when the mood darkens with sickness running thru town and that kindly cracker-barrel crowd turning up in costume as the KKK, fixin’ for a lynching. The big showdown is at once inspiring, patronizing, powerful & all too happy to let villains off the hook. Oh, those charitable Christians, what won’t they forgive next. It’s really an awfully nice film. Now, on to the next hymn.

DOUBLE-BILL: This is really John Ford or Henry King territory. Specifically Ford, with an opening that might be a MidWest HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY/’41, then quickly turning to a couple of pics Ford made with Will Rogers: DR. BULL/’33, for the typhoid outbreak, and the Irwin Cobb adaptation, JUDGE PRIEST/’34, which Ford loosely remade as THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT/'53 largely to include its anti-lynching climax. Though that film's Charles Winniger, no more than this film's Joel McCrea, gets close to Rogers’ slo-mo populist magic.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: With Amanda Blake as the new doc’s love interest and James Arness as Alan Hale's oldest son, STARS is a veritable GUNSMOKE ‘pre-union.’

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