Starring: Frank Morgan, Richard Carlson, Jean Rogers
Director: Roy Rowland
Running Time: 67 mins
A Stranger In Town is an American film about a US Supreme Court Justice who, while on a duck hunting trip in a small town, finds himself the centre of a major corruption battle, between the town’s bent rulers and a lawyer trying to turn the local government straight.
This film really isn’t all that interesting. It’s without a doubt a film very much of its time, in part because it’s a fairly dated, slow-moving and underwhelming comedy-drama, but also because it’s just a wartime propaganda movie, and it just doesn’t feel as genuine as some of the period’s best courtroom films, rather there to reinforce the American ideology during the war.
Let’s start on that point, because being a courtroom movie, a propaganda movie, or even both, doesn’t mean that a film has to be boring. Hollywood has loved to show off the American justice system and law ever since its birth, and films like Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, 12 Angry Men and To Kill A Mockingbird show that it can be an exceptionally powerful genre.
Propaganda movies, too, don’t always have to be boring. Although a large proportion of the genre really doesn’t make for the most riveting movies, and are now just there as historical relics, numerous films including the likes of Mrs. Miniver do a great job at combining the wartime message and a genuine story.
The biggest problem with A Stranger In Town, however, is the fact that it mixes the two stereotypical genres of the early 1940s into the most generic vision of the war effort and the USA. So, while the film’s huge emphasis on the power of the people to bring justice against corruption and evil was undoubtedly great for helping morale during the war, it really doesn’t make for a an interesting story 70 odd years later.
Unfortunately, there’s so much hyperbolic emphasis on that line of the story that any real emotion or more genuine character development is really lost by the wayside, and it’s very difficult to make a propaganda movie (which is almost always going to end up on the bright side) work without engaging characters, and that’s exactly where A Stranger In Town falls down.
The performances are fairly passable, and with a likable and confident turn from Frank Morgan, there are points of the film that you can enjoy, but it’s still neither an interesting drama nor an entertaining comedy, and because of its rather rigid propaganda feel, I’m giving it a 5.7 overall.