For Reel

Stranger in Town (1931)
May 27, 2016, 9:01 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Erle C. Kenton
3.5 Stars
Stranger in TownIn the pre-Code era, Warner Brothers led the industry with progressive films that dealt with serious political issues. Perhaps the most famous of these was I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang, which forgoes simple preaching in favor of depicting the brutality in all of its rawness, justly sparking an outrage in the American public. If Stranger in Town plays as a typical maudlin family drama, it shares a similar resonance to many of the studio’s social interest pictures in the way it discusses just what happens to small businesses when bigger stores come into town, and ultimately the humiliation of being undercut by the competitors. Just as importantly, it affords a respectable role for the terrific Ann Dvorak—she is the voice of reason, speaking for progress (she pushes her father into revamping his business) and even harboring a rebellious streak (she engages in a love affair with the competitor). Beloved vaudevillian mainstay Charles “Chic” Sale plays the store owner, whose performance doesn’t stray far enough from the “old coot” type, but he is a smarter actor than the surface might have one think—his stubbornness is chipped away bit by bit throughout the movie, making his character’s ideological transition happen smoothly. If Stranger in Town is not among the most memorable Warner Brothers pictures of its time, it does serve as a useful example of what the studio was capable of at its peak, and just how far ahead it was of its competition in terms of producing smart, adult films that reflected on the world around them.