Double Trouble for Young
Technically "Rachel and the Stranger" is a western, a tale of frontiers men adapted from Howard Fast's story and in doing so shows aspects of life living in a cabin in the wilderness. But in truth director Norman Foster has turned this tale into a fun romantic drama which puts a great big smile on your face thanks to well written characters and 4 actors who do a brilliant job of bringing it to life. In fact at times "Rachel and the Stranger" steps right over into romantic comedy territory with a typical but amusing fight between men but it still gets across every aspect of the drama, the way of life and so on.
After his wife died Big David Harvey (William Holden - When Time Ran Out) does his best to keep things going in his cabin in the woods, but with his son young Davey (Gary Gray) to look after and land to tend to he knows that he needs a woman to help him out. Whilst not interested in love David is a righteous man so when he pays the bond on a pretty woman called Rachel (Loretta Young - The Bishop's Wife) he marries her just so it looks proper. But whilst technically Mrs. Harvey Rachel soon realises that she is there to work, teach young Davey and little else. That is until family friend Jim (Robert Mitchum - Out of the Past) shows up and realises that not only is Rachel unhappy being little more than a slave but also takes a shine to her himself leading to Big David feeling threatened by his friend and having to rethink his feelings towards Rachel.
So in many ways "Rachel and the Stranger" looks like a typical western drama about a frontiersman and his son living in the wilderness. We get all the aspects of them being close as they hunt and eat together whilst also wary of threats from the wild animals and the Shawnee Indians.
But this soon evolves into this obvious but fun drama when David basically buys Rachel and marries her only so that her living at the cabin looks proper. It is amusing as we have the awkwardness between Big David and Rachel and also the fun of young Davey being a typical boy who doesn't understand why they need a woman in the home. It is all quite generic stuff as Rachel can't shoot and whilst tries to act like a wife to David finds him unresponsive but it makes you smile.
And it certainly makes you smile when Jim returns and takes a shine to Rachel turning on the charm when he realises that Big David doesn't treat her like a wife. It is again all quite typical as we watch David get jealous and try to compete with his friend Jim which inevitably leads to a short but comedic brawl between friends. And at the same time Rachel finds herself winning over young David as he softens to her being around the place. So for me that makes "Rachel and the Stranger" more of a fun romantic drama than western although it does give us a big western finish with Indian trouble.
Much of why this works is down to the actors and there is real chemistry between them all and playing their parts well. You can't but love it when Robert Mitchum as Jim turns sly and tries to charm Rachel, so wonderfully played by Loretta Young and this leads to amusement from William Holden as Big David acting threatened and put out. Throw in young Gary Gray as a typical young boy who wants to be like his Pa and we have generic but fun characters which combine to continually bring smiles to your face.
What this all boils down to is that whilst "Rachel and the Stranger" is a look at life as a frontiersman and in some ways being a wife of a frontiersman it does end up feeling like a romantic drama with plenty of humour. It makes it a pleasant surprise and in many ways a movie which deserves to be better known because it never stops entertaining.