Updated: Feb 14, 2021
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
Hunter and balladeer Jim Fairways (Robert Mitchum) provides after-dinner entertainment for young Davey (Gary Gray) and Rachel (Loretta Young) at the frontier home of “Big Davey” Harvey (William Holden).
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“RACHEL AND THE STRANGER” – THE WARNER ARCHIVE COLLECTION
Blu-ray, 1948, Not Rated
Best extra: Trailer
GET READY for frontier romance courtesy of Loretta Young, William Holden and Robert Mitchum.
“Rachel and the Stranger” was the surprise hit of 1948, a low budget black and white film based on a story by Howard Fast, who also wrote “Spartacus” (1969), “Cheyanne Autumn” (1964) and “Mirage” (1965). Waldo Scott of “Midnight Cowboy” (1969) and “Serpico” (1973) penned the script, and Norman Foster, best known for the “Mr. Moto” films starring Peter Lorre and “The Loretta Young Show” series, directed.
“Rachel” is another fine offering from The Warner Archive Collection. It looks fantastic with a new 1080p master from a 4K scan of the original negative. Video shows deep black levels, pure white highlights, and excellent gradations in gray. Detail and clarity are very good; any loss is a product of the original equipment and times. Film grain is heavy and steady. Run time is 93 minutes with a 1.37:1 aspect ratio.
Sound is delivered through a DTS HD-Master Audio 2.0 soundtrack. It’s straightforward and simple, with clearly delivered dialogue, effects, and score by Roy Webb, who also composed for “Notorious” (1946), “Out of the Past” (1947), and “Bringing Up Baby” (1938), as well as dozens of other films and series from 1929 to 1960. All noise and hiss have been cleaned away, but SDH subtitles are available.
(1) The RKO production was mostly filmed near Eugene, Oregon. Nearly 15-minutes of footage was restored for this Warner Archive presentation after it was cut during its re-release in 1954. (2) William Holden plays homesteader David “Big Davey” Harvey, who mourns the death of his wife. (3) Young Davey and his best friend, Pistol. (4&5) Jim Fairways comforts his friend at his wife’s gravesite.
The story is simple. What sells it is the chemistry between Young, Holden and Mitchum, along with spunky Gary Gray who plays Holden’s young son, Davey. William Holden plays homesteader David “Big Davey” Harvey, who has a farm in the hills of Ohio. He’s a recent widower, mourning the loss of his wife, mother to Davey. She was a remarkable woman by all accounts, but after a year by themselves, Harvey decides the place needs a woman’s touch – i.e. someone to help with chores and tutor his son – so he heads to the closest settlement to find one.
The choice is limited, this being the outskirts of civilization and all. Young Davey has decided to grow up like his Dad’s best friend, Jim Fairways (Mitchum), a roaming, guitar-playing, singer-trapper-hunter. (Yep. Mitchum sings!) That’s another reason why Harvey is looking for a female partner much to his son’s distress. Davey doesn’t want another mother.
The local preacher and his wife lead Harvey to an indentured servant, Rachel, played by the luminous Loretta Young. He buys out her contract-plus, and then takes off for home. They must marry for propriety’s sake, but don’t consider themselves a real husband and wife. Note Harvey and the kid ride the horse, while Rachel walks, a reasonable depiction of a bondswoman's or -man’s life during those times. Boundaries are set. Harvey keeps a stoic distance, until his buddy shows up. As soon as Fairways spots Rachel, he reconsiders his bachelor life. Suddenly, marriage and settling down seems like a great idea, and soon he and Harvey are competing for Rachel’s attention – even while Rachel herself hasn’t been asked to play. Have no doubts she is very much in control of the situation.
(1) David Harvey and his son head to the local stockade to find a housekeeper and teacher for young Davey. (2) The local preacher Mr. Jackson (Tom Tully) and his wife (Sara Haden) recommend Rachel (Loretta Young), a bondwoman, to help. (3) For $18 dollars-plus $4 to come, David purchases Rachel's contract, and marries her for propriety’s sake. (4) During the trip home, Rachel walks and carries her own belongings.
The trailer is “Rachel’s” only extra, which is fine for establishing the restoration improvements. Head to TCM.com for info on the film’s background. When production began in 1947, Young was the established star. Holden was back from WWII and hoping to re-charge his career, while Mitchum was on the edge of stardom. With “Rachel,” he had three films ready for release. Then came the big marijuana bust of 1948 and he went to jail. It was only a small, medium grade amount used among friends, but the courts threw the books at him. So did the nation’s theater owners.
Even so, the studio felt it wasn’t financially productive to ditch Mitchum and his films. “Rachel and the Stranger” was released and became a big hit. In later years, the actor said it was one of his three favorite films out of the many he made. Part of that came from working with Loretta Young, a devout Catholic who kept a swear jar on the set. She charged on a grading scale for every blasphemy uttered, while Mitchum called her “Mother Superior.” According to TCM’s report, Young was a fairly “earthy lady,” while Mitchum was “an intelligent and sensitive man despite any efforts he made to present himself otherwise.” At any rate, he enjoyed showing his musical-comic side in “Rachel.”
— Kay Reynolds
(1) The family rests after dinner, while Rachel continues to do chores. She's not really a wife, only a servant. (2) Jim Fairways discovers the new addition to the Harvey farm. (3) Rachel wants to improve her rifle skills. (4) Prayer before the Thanksgiving meal. (5&6) Jim continues to pop in at the farm, obviously attracted to Rachel.
(1&2) David Harvey begins to acknowledge tender feelings for Rachel. (3-4) Shawnee Indians attack the homestead. By daybreak, not much is left. (5) David and Harvey admit they care for each other.