Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Stranger's Return 1933

Today's post has been written especially for In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood's Second Annual Barrymore Trilogy Blogathon.

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.

Divorcee Louise Storr (Miriam Hopkins) arrives on the Storr family farm in need of fresh air and a new life. The farm is maintained by the crotchety Grandpa Storr (Lionel Barrymore), who has a manipulative and gossipy bunch of family members living with him. Stuart Erwin plays Simon, a drunken, but big-hearted farmhand. Grandpa Storr warms to his granddaughter Louise immediately. Louise is fearless and quickly identifies with the land as equally as her grandfather does. With Lionel turning in an outstanding performance as the curmudgeonly patriarch, Grandpa Storr lovingly softens when he interacts with Louise.

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.

Barrymore's performance is incredible throughout the film, but viewers will really be impressed when his character pulls a great ruse on everyone that reasserts his control. It's a fantastic scene that is perfectly tailored to Barrymore's strengths as an actor. The Stranger's Return features superior performances by all its actors. Guy Crane is a stand-out performance of Franchot's. It's one of those films I'd recommend to those who know Franchot only as the wealthy love interest to Joan and Jean. Just as Grandpa Storr is perfectly tailored to Barrymore's strengths, the sensitive, complicated Guy Crane is an ideal character for Franchot to inhabit. Likewise, Miriam Hopkins is flawless as the torn, but courageous Louise Storr. It's a shame that this film has been tossed aside due to licensing rights. It deserves to be recognized as the exemplary pre-code film it is. I sense that a DVD release is in the future. I just hope it's not as far off in the future as I fear.

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—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

1 comment:

  1. I have just seen this film and it is a masterpiece on so many levels. It is also ageless, though probably even more relevant today because of the Back-to-the-land movement, than it would have been say thirty of forty year ago. I'd be interested in looking at the original text too, even if it was just to see how all the undercurrents of emotion and turmoil played out in the written word. I'll also take a look at all the links you've included in your review. Thanks for posting and all the very best from Normandie, Sue