This one came out in 1943, when the entire country was engaged in war industry. What is a wonder is that films were still being made, what with available workforce and materiel in desperate need. Jimmy Stewart was by this year flying missions over Europe, along with Clark Gable. Congressman Lyndon Johnson of Texas was flying missions in the Pacific. John Wayne was making movies. A thing that marks films of this era is the patriotic strain that runs through them. It’s A Stranger in Town, featuring Frank Morgan, better known as The Wizard of Oz. This is streaming on Amazon Prime Video. Details are from Wikipedia.
- Frank Morgan as John Josephus Grant
- Richard Carlson as Bill Adams
- Jean Rogers as Lucy Gilbert
- Porter Hall as Judge Austin Harkley
- Robert Barrat as Mayor Connison
- Donald MacBride as Vinnie Z. Blaxton
- Walter Baldwin as Tom Cooney
- Andrew Tombes as Roscoe Swade
- Olin Howland as Homer Todds
It’s an enjoyable movie, and what makes it a Bad Movie of the Week is its lame plot, almost cookie-cutter. We see Supreme Court Justice John Josephus Grant wrapping up a session of the Court and heading off for some vacation. He tells his sexy as all get-out secretary Lucy to not tell anybody where he has gone. She has just submitted her resignation, telling the judge she does not feel appreciated. He tears up the letter, telling her she has a load of legal talent, and she is getting great experience working for him.
And the judge goes duck hunting, which is the thing that gets the movie going. He has a license to hunt ducks in the state, but a game warden informs him he also needs a stamp for the town. The judge is prepared to pay for the tag on the spot, but then the conniving warden attempts to shake him down. There will be an extra convenience fee, which goes in the warden’s pocket.
Not telling anybody he is a Supreme, the judge declines the offer to bribe and is hauled into court. Here we see the judge carrying his double barrel into the court room, which astonished me to no end. I tend to think fire arms are not allowed in courts, because these are places where dangerous criminals hang out while being sentenced to the chair.
Anyhow, small-town lawyer Bill Adams is there, failing to defend his client. His client was late making a payment on some farm tools, and the shop is repossessing the complete lot. We begin to see this town is not a people-friendly place.
We see Bill at the barber shop getting a shave. We see the judge also getting a shave. We see the poor farmer having an encounter with the town mayor, who treats him like low-life scum. Fisticuffs result, with Bill throwing a punch.
The judge sees crooked business going on with the town government, and he sends a telegram (no email in those days) to Lucy. She arrives, and Bill is at the train station to give her a lift. He understands she is the judge’s secretary and nothing more.
Of course it is sex at first sight. Of course, this being a sort of comedy, he completely bungles the first impression. He grabs her valise and spills the contents on the train platform. A few minutes later, while driving her to her hotel in his open car, he runs over her cute hat. Yes, lifelong relationships start out this way.
Bill is running for mayor against the crooked Mayor Connison, and the mayor has a crowd of people in his pocket. One is apparently the hotel owner, who refuses a room to Lucy. We don’t allow women without luggage in our hotel. She is ordered out of the hotel. Fisticuffs ensue.
They both wind up in the county jail. Separate cells.
The judge springs them, and he sets Bill straight. Bill, expecting to be called into the Army at any time, is running for mayor in order to rid his town of the corruption. But he’s playing a loser’s game, and the judge gets him sorted out. They need to have a winning strategy.
They start with the hotel. Yard sticks are ordered brought up to the rooms. Phone calls between the rooms are exchanged. Of course the hotel switchboard operator listens in along with her boss. They know something is up, but they do not know what.
What is up is when the maid comes to turn down the judges sheets she remarks at how shamefully short they are. Using the yardsticks the conspirators have measured the sheets and the pillow cases. The hotel has literally been short-sheeting its guests. There is a state law against that, and the hotel owner is brought up on charges. The crooked judge cannot contravene the law, and the owner stands convicted.
And now precipitates what Judge Grant has been planning all along. Nothing is going to happen until the corrupt officials are goaded into actionable offenses. Bill’s crooked landlord evicts him from his office space on trumped up allegations of termites. Bill’s supporters and the mayor’s supporters confront each other, and a brawl results.
Now Bill and the judge have something to work with. They obtain confessions from the riot instigators. They deliberately brought on the conflict under the mayor’s direction. He is charged with conspiracy and is arrested at a campaign event.
At the arraignment hearing the mayor demands justification for his arrest, and the evidence is presented. The mayor stands indicted.
Judge Grant reveals his identity and gives a talk to the spectators in the court. This is the American way. Things don’t work unless citizens get involved and stay involved.
In the final scenes we see Judge Grant presiding over Bill’s and Lucy’s wedding. Throughout the movie we are reminded of the call to duty and a drive to sell war bonds.
Of course I spotted defects in continuity. Judge is hauled into court for hunting without a license, and the trial judge finishes with the luckless farmer. Then he calls the next case and names the defendant, who has just been brought in unannounced. Is he psychic or something?