The Stranger's Return is a film that is overwhelmingly hard to track down, because MGM did not renew the rights to Phil Stong's original story. Back in 2014, Warner Brothers did clear the rights to show it at TCM's Film Festival and TCM aired it on their television station at that time. I was fortunate to catch the television showing of it that year and hoped that increased showings and a Warner Archive DVD release were in the works. Sadly, I've not seen or read anything else about the movie since then.
It's always disappointing when a film is lost to the public due to rights issues, but it is devastating when said film is as exceptional as this one. Directed by King Vidor, The Stranger's Return is a masterful pre-code with commanding performances by its leads Lionel Barrymore, Miriam Hopkins, and Franchot Tone. Top-notch secondary actors Stuart Erwin, Beulah Bondi, Grant Mitchell, and Irene Hervey round out the cast.
Masked in rivalry, Grandpa Storr also maintains a soft spot for neighboring farmer Guy Crane (Franchot Tone). An educated man, Guy is torn between his love of the family farm and his ties to tradition and the forceful pull of great adventure in other lands of which he's read. Guy and Louise recognize this common duality in their characters and are attracted to one another. Bound by integrity, Guy and Louise must decide whether or not to abandon the stable goodness of their families (Guy is a husband and father) and the land in order to pursue the passion they feel.
The New York Times reviewed:
Mr. Barrymore, in a part that was made in heaven for him, plays with lusty vigor and humor, and his performance is entirely delightful. Miriam Hopkins, as his granddaughter, has never been more effective. Franchot Tone is intelligent, honest and sensitive as the educated farmer from next door.If you'd like to read more about The Stranger's Return, check out the great write-ups at TCM, Leonard Maltin's site, and at pre-code.com—although I obviously wasn't too crazy about Pre-Code Danny's "Franchot Tone is no Clark Gable" quip. (He's not supposed to be Clark Gable. There already is a Clark Gable. Clark and Franchot have two completely different acting styles and that's OK. Hollywood is big enough for a Clark Gable and a Franchot Tone!...end of rant.)
To read all about the wonderful Barrymore family, check out all the entries over at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.
All images are from movie magazines digitized at Media History Digital Library