Walk Softly, Stranger


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.

Mr. Lucky


Mr. Lucky (1943)

    Cary Grant generally played the same sort of man in all his movies: a confident gentleman who let the women chase after him. Although it took a while for the studios to figure out the part Grant would continuously play –Paramount had him playing whatever role was handy at the start of his career– it is that persona that we all have come to know him as.

     In Mr. Lucky, Grant is cast in a seedier part but brings to it all the charm we would expect. He plays Joe Bascopolous, sort of. This gambler takes the name of the deceased Greek Bascopolous when he is issued a draft notice just ahead of a big gambling opportunity for he and his boat. Bascopolous’ draft card indicates he is unfit for service, so Joe and Zepp (Paul Stewart) flip for the freedom from war and the boat with it.

     Joe next runs into Laraine Day‘s Dorothy, who is trying to sell tickets to a charity ball to support war relief. He declines to buy the tickets but visits the charity’s headquarters where he offers to run a gambling set up at the ball, which could easily raise the $100,000 the all-woman non-profit group aims to achieve. Both Dorothy and Captain Steadman (Gladys Cooper) resist the offer, but looking to win over the group, Joe hangs around. He ends up using his brute to get a truckful of supplies released to the war relief group ahead of payment and through his gambling tricks secures a load of blankets for free. The man also takes up knitting and soon all the men around him are doing the same.

     Dorothy and the captain soon agree to the gambling at their ball, all of the proceeds from which Joe plans to abscond with. During his devilish deeds, however, he falls in love with Dorothy. This predictably leads him to back off the scam, but Zepp, who never went to war, has other intentions.

     I struggled with whether to give Mr. Lucky a higher rating because I found it both amusing and unique because of Grant’s atypical part. On the whole, it really is nothing too special, but for the Grant fan it is probably worth exploring. The most interesting attempt Grant makes to look like a good-for-nothing is curling his upper lip under to create a kind of tough-man sneer-smile. He does it naturally, but it makes him sort of funny looking, so one finds it hard to take him seriously.

     Day is amusing and beautiful and makes a good match for Grant. The latter teaches the woman a variety of rhyming slang from Australia that is used throughout the picture. For instance, “briny marlin” means “my darling”, “tit for tat”  is “hat”, “twist and twirl” is “girl”, and “trouble and strife” is “wife”. The slang becomes a sort of secret language for the two as Dorothy uses it to save Joe from capture by the police.

     Mr. Lucky is certainly marked by plenty of light moments, but it starts out on a very dark note and as the seedy gamblers come and go in the scene, the tone of the picture fluctuates.

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