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Walk Softly, Stranger

Gasser

Walk Softly, Stranger (1950)

Despite the variety of films Joseph Cotton made, his persona such as that in Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons are the ones that stick with me. It is for that reason that I always find myself surprised to see him playing a bad guy; although it was not an uncommon part for the star. Between attempting to murder Marilyn Monroe in Niagara and “allegedly” killing old women in Shadow of a Doubt, he played the nice guy with a sinister undercoat quite well.

In Walk Softly, Stranger we again find a likeable Cotton playing a criminal. He is re-teamed with Alida Valli (or in this billing, just Valli) known to audiences from The Third Man made with Cotton the year prior. This was a selling point used in the poster to the right. Cotton’s “Chris Hale” arrives in a small town and wanders up to a house where he tells the old woman within that he ran away from the home as a boy. This Mrs. Brentman (Spring Byington) shows the boy around the home and takes an instant liking to the man, therefore accepting his invitation to be her first tenant.

We know despite Hale’s convincing manner that something is not kosher. When he arrived at the house, he glanced at a note that indicates the home is occupied by a single old woman. His next activity sends him to a party at a mansion where he runs into Valli’s Elaine Correlli. He tells her that he was in love with her as a girl, also revealing details about his days working as a caddy at the country club. We, too, are quite convinced of this truth and Hale’s deserved surprise when he sees the beautiful woman is wheelchair-bound.

After a time living with Mr. Brentman, Hale goes out of town and reunites with a friend, Whitey Lake (Paul Stewart). Here we get to some truth as we witness the men pull off an ambitious robbery of a mobster at his gambling den. Hale returns “home”, plenty of cash in pocket.

The man forces his presence on Elaine until she really starts to care for him. When things get too serious, however, she leaves town, but Hale remains faithful. The situation becomes complicated, however, when Whitey shows up at Hale’s house and stays awhile. He has blown all his dough and is fearful the duo will be hunted down, and indeed they are.

Walk Softly, Stranger is a decently written story. It has a nice dual plot as it could have been a good movie either as a romance between a man and his childhood sweetheart now in a wheelchair or as a suspense following a criminal’s attempts to go straight and keep hidden. As it happens here, the romantic plot serves to drive Hale’s desire to be good and convinces us he is genuine about the transformation as well. Valli brings the soft, sympathetic emotions out in us while Cotton drives our fear and anxiety about an uncertain future.

Both our stars, as well as Stewart and Byington, give suitable performances. We know who to like and who to think twice about. As mentioned, Cotton does a fantastic job of conveying trustworthiness and gentleness that make it difficult to picture him as a villain. He nevertheless fills the shoes of a card shark and thief well, although drawing plenty of sympathy in doing so.

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The Happy Thieves

Dullsville

The Happy Thieves (1961)

     When an actress can establish herself as a sex icon, this status combined with decent acting skill makes for an easily successful career, for a time. The trouble is, however, how that star maintains her box-office draw and studio prowess when her good looks start to age. Rita Hayworth is one such example. She played many sweet, pretty parts before making a smash as the title character in Gilda and spending a portion of her career playing similar roles. She was a fine performer, but studios did not care much as the woman got older. A busy career that started in the 1930s petered out in the ’60’s and she was certainly showing physical maturity in ’61’s The Happy Thieves.

     Hayworth nevertheless holds her own in the unfortunately dull story of a trio of art thieves who find themselves coerced into a more difficult theft. At the opening, Hayworth’s Eve waits outside a castle as skilled thief Jim (Rex Harrison) purloins a Velázquez painting from his host’s home and replaces it with a forgery, created by artist Jean Marie (Joseph Wiseman). Eve then smuggles the real painting into Paris but discovers it missing when she reunites with Jim. The stolen art was restolen by a Dr. Munoz (Grégoire Aslan) who also has a photo of Jim conducting the original theft. Munoz blackmails the group into stealing a Goya from a museum.

     Although the actual theft of the Goya during open museum hours is conducted in a low-tech Mission Impossible-type manner, the crime is unfortunately accomplished in connection with the murder of a bullfighter and does not quite go off without a hitch. The group’s blackmailer also turns up dead and the authorities soon discover the forgery.

     The Happy Thieves is appropriately titled as it certainly is a light-hearted crime plot. The story, however, is a bit of a snooze. None of the characters comes off as particularly sympathetic with the soft-spoken Eve standing out as the most innocent of the criminals. Hayworth’s character does not really fit the mold of a thief, but that is part of why she is effective in her smuggling role. Harrison, meanwhile, is a lacking love interest for Hayworth as the romance between the two is minimal despite the man’s plan to land a big enough score for the two to live on indefinitely together.

     Alida Valli also makes an appearance as a duchess who plans to marry the murdered bull fighter and gets her own revenge. Despite the decent cast, The Happy Thieves leaves me with nothing to take away as making the flick worth watching. It is not particularly unique in its plot and offers no stand-out performances.

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