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When recently separated Louise Storr arrives in the Midwestern town of Pittsville from New York City, she is greeted at the train depot by Grandpa Storr, her eighty-five-year-old grandfather, and Simon Bates, his hard-drinking but devoted farmhand. Although a New York native who has never seen the Storr family farm, Louise quickly warms to life at "Storrhaven" and to her irascible but wise grandfather, a third generation farmer. Grandpa's stepdaughter, Thelma Redfield, and his nephew's widow Beatrice are suspicious of Louise, however, and express their disapproval when she shows interest in Guy Crane, their married neighbor. Louise and Guy's mutual attraction becomes obvious to his sweet but simple wife Nettie when she invites Louise to Sunday dinner and can only listen as her neighbor discusses theater and other cultural topics with her Cornell-educated husband. Aware of Beatrice and Thelma's watchful eyes, Guy later warns Louise at a town dance that her in-laws may see her, the Storr farm heiress, as a threat to their financial future. After Beatrice admonishes Louise about dancing too many times with a married man, Louise accepts a ride home from Guy, who kisses her impetuously in an empty field. Although the couple vows to forget about the incident, Louise tells Guy after a long day of cooking for a group of hungry threshers, that she should return to New York to protect his reputation in the rural community. Dismissing Louise's concern for his social standing, Guy confesses his love but admits that he has no will to leave Nettie. When Beatrice then catches Guy and Louise kissing, Louise determines to go but is counselled by Grandpa to stay and fight for the farm. During his talk with Louise, Grandpa suddenly begins to describe approaching Rebel soldiers and other Civil War images, and Louise and the rest of the family become convinced that he has lost his mind. While Beatrice insists that the Insanity Commission be alerted and Grandpa be committed, a distressed Louise seeks help from Guy and Simon. Grandpa's delusions continue, however, and after he angrily accuses Beatrice of being a Rebel spy, the Insanity Commission is called. As soon as the three physicians arrive, Grandpa reveals that his "insanity" was a hoax concocted to expose his in-laws as fortune hunters. With the Insanity Commission as witnesses, Grandpa then dictates a new will to Thelma's timid husband Allen, a lawyer, and leaves the farm exclusively to Louise. Although Grandpa ultimately forgives Thelma and Allen, Beatrice is ordered to return to Des Moines. His job done, Grandpa confides in Louise that his heart is failing and dies quietly in the night. Guy then tells Louise, who has chosen to stay on the farm, that he is going to accept a teaching job at Cornell, a decision that Louise bravely endorses as the best solution to their affair.
Harry C. Bradley
The Stranger's Return -
Though early in his career, The Stranger's Return finds Franchot in familiar territory, as the likeable, inoffensive All-American guy, only this time, he's the object of the leading lady's affection instead of losing out to someone like Clark Gable in Dancing Lady. The story begins at the breakfast table of the Storr family farm as Grandpa Storr (Lionel Barrymore) comes down to find corn flakes instead of bacon and eggs. The cornflakes are dumped, bacon and eggs are made, and the old Civil War veteran tells his son-in-law, Allen (Grant Mitchell); his wife Thelma (Aileen Carlyle); and his stepdaughter, Beatrice (Beulah Bondi), that his granddaughter is coming to stay with them. He's referring to Louise (Miriam Hopkins), recently separated from her husband in New York City, and coming back to the country for a time. Beatrice is dismayed as having a woman leave her husband is something likely to cause scandal in their little upstate New York community. When Louise finally arrives, on the midnight train no less, it's worse than she expects.
Louise is clearly more sophisticated, urbane, and intelligent than Beatrice (she even attempts to tip the farmhand that carries her bags, to Beatrice's disapproval - he ends up taking the tip anyway) and worst of all, she's beautiful. When Louise takes a short horse ride with her Grandpa to see the Cranes, the family that occupies the next farm over, she and Guy Crane (Franchot Tone) immediately connect. Later, at a community social, she dances with Guy several times, even after being warned by Beatrice that she is causing a scandal, not only because Guy is married but because his wife, Nettie (Irene Hervey), is right there watching. Of course, Nettie doesn't mind, only Beatrice.
Guy and Louise continue to socialize and discover they have much in common. Guy went to college at Cornell (like Tone did in real life) and the two talk about theater in New York while Nettie is left out of the conversation. Guy shows Louise around the massive acreage of his farm and, finally, in a moment of passion, reveals his love for her. The problem is, both Guy and Louise like Nettie and neither wants to hurt her. More importantly for Louise, Guy's reputation will be destroyed. She can leave and go back to the city any time she wants, she explains to him, but he will be stuck there among the ever watchful, ever judging eyes of the small farming community.
Dealing with social commentary was something that director King Vidor had been doing for years. In fact, one of the greatest social commentary dramas in all of cinema, the 1928 masterpiece The Crowd, was directed by Vidor. In The Stranger's Return, he deals in taboo subjects once again and guides the story masterfully. The outside locations, instead of soundstages, add an authenticity to the film, and all the actors are in fine form.
Miriam Hopkins, like Tone, was just starting out in the movies, although by this one, she had already become a star. In just her first four movies she had scored major successes with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Smiling Lieutenant (both 1931) and she quickly became one of the biggest stars of the thirties. She's excellent here, playing well against both Tone and Barrymore.
Speaking of Barrymore, the old actor of the stage was in his stagecraft element here, wearing a beard and playing a character over thirty years older than his age at the time. He does so splendidly and manages to make a character almost defiantly rude and sarcastic at all times wholly loveable as well.
The Stranger's Return is one of those great films from the early thirties that doesn't get nearly enough recognition. The direction, production, writing, and acting are all supremely well done but for whatever reason, even with the newly minted star power of Miriam Hopkins, it didn't set the box office on fire and hasn't built up a reputation over the years like many others. It's time to change that and let The Stranger's Return return to the spotlight.
Producer: Lucien Hubbard Director: King Vidor Writers: Brown Holmes, Philip Stong (from his novel) Cinematography: William H. Daniels Film Editing: Richard Fantl, Ben Lewis Art Direction: Frederic Hope Cast: Lionel Barrymore (Grandpa Storr), Miriam Hopkins (Louise Storr), Franchot Tone (Guy Crane), Stuart Erwin (Simon), Irene Hervey (Nettie), Beulah Bondi (Beatrice), Grant Mitchell (Allen), Tad Alexander (Widdie), Aileen Carlyle (Thelma)
By Greg Ferrara
The Stranger's Return -
The Motion Picture Herald review incorrectly lists this film as a Paramount release. M-G-M borrowed Miriam Hopkins from Paramount for the production. In a modern interview, director King Vidor recalled the following information about the production: After producer Lucien Hubbard brought Philip Stong's novel to his attention, Vidor asked that Stong, whose book State Fair had been made by Fox into a successful picture earlier in 1933, work on the screenplay. Because Stong had difficulty writing additional scenes for the film, Vidor speculated that his "very bright wife" May actually have written most of the novel. According to Vidor, Stong changed his story in his rewrites "more than some studio writers would." The film was shot in Chino, CA, a rural community near Los Angeles. Remembering that he worked with a female art director named Doris, Vidor claims that he was "inspired by several paintings by Grant Wood" and ordered that "some of the buildings out there in Chino" be built according to the architectural style found in Wood's paintings. Vidor noted that a love scene "that took place in a pile of hay on the ground" and another scene in which Louise's feeling "for the farm and the country" is stated were missing from a modern print of the film.