Starring: Loretta Young, William Holden, Robert Mitchum, Gary Gray
Director: Norman Foster
Before I begin, I need to get one thing off my chest- where the hell was this movie, in my film classes?! I watched Citizen Kane so many times that I damn near got up during one showing and yelled *SPOILER ALERT* “IT’S THE SLED!” and while Shane is a great movie and all, there are only so many times one can study it without sounding like a robot regurgitating the same old information about Alan Ladd’s height and Brandon DeWilde’s utter brilliance, for his age. So, instructors and professors of film history and theory, I propose this- let the class in on a little secret called Rachel And The Stranger.
The film was one of RKO’s top money makers of 1948, earning a profit of $395,000. Funny story, though- it almost didn’t make it to the theaters at all because of a pesky situation that arose, involving Robert Mitchum and some weed. Depending on the source you find, either RKO was too invested in the film to hold it back or they shoved it out and hoped Mitchum wouldn’t get a life sentence for smoking a little ganja. Whichever story you go with, there is no denying that the press surrounding Mitchum’s arrest certainly boosted the public’s curiosity and desire to see this film. This isn’t to say that the film couldn’t have made a profit without that publicity, but it definitely helped, at the box office.
Of course, a few of you are looking at that and thinking, “Oh damn, I bet Loretta Young hated that dude.” That assumption would be wildly inaccurate. On location, in Oregon, she rented her own quarters and had Mitchum and William Holden over on numerous occasions. When their drinking got to be on the excessive side, she did chastise them, saying they’d rot their stomachs, but she never passed judgment on them. Holden thanked her for the suggestion, and Mitchum said he could take care of himself. Of course, he did playfully refer to her as “Mother Superior,” but respected her as a person, as an actress, and even respected her swear jar. While paying his dues to the jar, he asked how much an f-bomb would cost. Loretta exclaimed, “That’s free!” It was only to curb blasphemy.
BLESS ROBERT MITCHUM FOR CLEARING THAT ONE UP FOR US. And, though I have laughed at many a tale of various stars shoving a $20 bill into the jar and going off on a tirade, this story is probably the only one based in truth.
Back to the actual movie, though. Now, you look at the three big stars of the picture, and you know that you’re in for a great time. There is simply no point in me going into intricate detail about all the things they did right because they did all of it right. Mitchum had this special brand of on screen chemistry with nearly every actress he worked with- no matter how plain she’s made to look or how hokey his pick up lines could be, the tension between him and a leading lady is palpable. This is no exception. Loretta, being the natural flirt she was and the goddess of the subtleties of a glance, is perfectly cast as the object of his affections, even though she’s been bought by and married to Holden. She was so good at expressing those split second moments of doubt with just the slightest hesitation of a smile. She wants to do good and be good, but Holden’s curmudgeonly widower doesn’t make much of a case, for himself.
Perhaps the greatest of all of the parlayers of this story, however, was the director, himself. I’m just now examining some of Norman Foster’s directorial work, and was he good or was he GOOD at this?! The angles which he chose to shoot the different actors from are practically poetic. Throughout the movie, you see that this might not be being shot from the standpoint of being about a lady named Rachel and some strange fella trying to win her away from his buddy. When the boy, Davey, speaks to his father, and you get a straight shot of Holden, it’s just that. There are few, if any instances where Holden is shot from below. This is really enhanced by the way in which Davey pleads with and almost manipulates his father. He sees him as an equal partner, to be respected, but to work along side of. Then, when Mitchum enters the picture, his character is shot from below, giving him a sort of giant like appearance, a mythical sort of creature that Davey wants to emulate. He wants to be a real man’s man, like Jim, and go off on hunting adventures. Jim Fairways is his hero, where his father is more like an agreeable boss. From Rachel’s first scene, we get just the slightest inference that there is something of a higher power to her, from the way the “transaction” is shot. Davey must climb to get a look at her, and though a seat at the table for her would be polite, the mere fact that she rises above those that are bargaining for her speaks volumes, as she stands quietly in the background. Slowly, throughout the movie, the camera strikes a balance for all three, but when Davey begins to be more accepting of Rachel, the angles take a sudden turn. One moment, shot from high above, is of Rachel descending from the loft. In that instant, we see that it is she who has the upper hand, she who controls the destiny of herself and all three of the males.
Really, truly, high five Norman Foster. Brilliant, good sir.
This movie is a 100% must see. I don’t know about all of you, but I think it’s tiring to keep blowing rainbows all over the same old classics, especially when there are gems like this just waiting to be praised, and deservedly so. It’s almost a crime that it’s not available to purchase on DVD. For those of you with TCM, however, it will be airing on Monday, October 5th at 3 PM Eastern.