After carrying out a brazen bank robbery, gunfighter Clay Anderson (Skip Homeier) finds safe haven in the home of soft-spoken minister Hollis Jarret (Macdonald Carey), his beautiful wife Peg (Patricia Medina) and son (Stephen Wootton). Hollis extends to Clay every hospitality and gives him every chance at redemption, despite the undeniable sexual attraction that is clearly forming between Peg and the gunman. In time, Hollis earns the outlaw’s respect, and encourages Clay to turn away from a life of crime. But Clay’s moral reformation comes just as the local sheriff (Louis Jean Heydt) tracks down his location, setting the stage for a tense, and potentially tragic, confrontation.
“For me, salvation is a clean pistol and a good horse.”
Movies that are either based on religious texts or bare religious themes have been a staple of cinematic entertainment since the very beginning. If a movie isn’t expressly about a biblical character directly, you can expect to find a good amount of iconography. Even if a movie doesn’t seem to be stating a religious message, if you look hard enough it’s there in its own subtle ways. With ‘Stranger At My Door’ there is nothing subtle about its message, but thankfully its blunt approach to the subtext doesn’t keep it from being an entertaining western.
Bank robbing gang leader Clay Anderson, genre regular Skip Homeier, has just pulled off the heist of a lifetime looting a bank for everything its got as the rest of his gang set fire to the Sheriff’s office and other parts of town ensuring their getaway. Once the money is split up and the rest of the gang has ridden off to the four winds, Clay finds himself with a lame horse that couldn’t be ridden even if his life depended upon it. Moseying down the trail a ways; Clay discovers the Jarret family’s property.
Little Dodie, the late Stephen Wootton, and his dog offer their assistance to the stranger. Being to young to figure otherwise, Dodie sees Clay as an honest nice guy who maybe could give him riding lessons. The small boy leads the man back home where Peg Jarret, a sultry Patricia Medina, is ready to greet her young step son and his new friend.
Clay initially mistakes the young woman to be Dodie’s older sister, and is amazed to discover she is in fact the wife of preacher Hollis Jarret, Macdonald Carey. Having been away to town for supplies, Hollis discovers Clay on his property. In spite of the man using an alias, Hollis sees through the facade and knows exactly who his son and wife have offered assistance to. Knowing full well the murderous, thieving ways of his unexpected guest, Hollis is reticent to cast the man away believing that he could perhaps turn this dark man’s soul back towards the light.
While his horse is on the mend, Clay is enlisted to help Hollis build his church and any number of other tasks, including breaking a wild “devilish” bronco that defies anyone who dares to ride him. Both men know the score. Hollis won’t risk his family by doing anything rash, and Clay can’t leave without a horse. The two men’s lives are intertwined by fate, or by the hand of God - depending on whose point of view you take.
Directed by the late William Witney, ‘Stranger At My Door’ bucks many Western Genre conventions. While there are is a shoot out or two and it features a climatic horse race, the action of the film isn’t the main focus. At its heart, ‘Stranger At My Door’ works as character study about a man who believes he’s beyond redemption of any kind, repeatedly attempts to prove his level of “evil” but fails at conniving anyone that he’s without a soul - including himself.
Normally I don’t tend to go for films that use blunt tools to tell a morality tale but this one is carried along extremely well by the performances from its main cast. Macdonald Carey brings a wonderful presence to the film. While many may know him best from his work as Dr. Tom Horton during his near 30 year run on ‘Days of Our Lives,’ I hope people discover and remember him for this film. The tenacity he brings to his character is wonderful, especially when working as a counter point to Skip Homeier’s headset Clay Anderson.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t give special mention to the late Patricia Medina and her portrayal of Peg. Right away you can sense she’s playing a woman out of her element. Someone who, like Clay, is running away from a past and has found salvation, even if she doesn’t entirely believe it herself. Her character isn’t given a lot to say, but what she does is what counts the most here. Watch as she regularly, yet subtly fidgets with her ring finger, as if the gold band isn’t the right fit in more ways than one.
I have to admit that when ‘Stranger At My Door’ got going I was expecting a bit of a groaner, especially at the sight of the half-built church. I was preparing myself for surface “on-the-nose” shallow message story telling that cribbed plot elements from Delmer Daves’ ‘3:10 to Yuma.’ I was pleasantly surprised that this movie has a lot more depth, heart, and technical achievement under its pistol belt. Bud Thackery’s black and white cinematography is fantastic, especially how the action sequences were shot. Stunt work during the breaking of the bronco was particularly impressive. With the strong direction of William Witney and the great performances from its central cast and a nice appearance from a young Slim Pickens, ‘Stranger At My Door’ is a nice movie worth watching and appreciating.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
‘Stranger At My Door’ makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Olive Films on a BD25 disc. Housed in a standard Blu-ray case, the disc opens directly to the main menu.
With only minor print wear, ‘Stranger At My Door’ gets a solid 1.66:1 1080p HD Blu-ray debut from Olive Films. Don’t let the flicker and specks that pepper the intro Republic Pictures logo worry you, things even out right quick for this release. Film grain is present, but only slightly and just enough to ensure that little if any DNR or smoothing was employed for this transfer. Detail is strong and clear throughout the run of this film. Black levels get a lot of exercise here, but never lead to any sort of heavy crush issues. Contrast is also nicely balanced helping this transfer elicit a solid sense of depth and dimensionality to the picture, especially during the bronco breaking scene. I was hard pressed to spot any kind of compression artifacts either, maybe some slight banding here or there, but nothing to make much of a fuss over.
Olive Films does another fantastic job bringing a strong English DTS-HD MA 2.0 track for this Blu-ray release of ‘Stranger At My Door.’ If there is any kind of compression distortion or errant artifacts to this track, I must be hard of hearing. To me, this track comes through with outstanding clarity, imaging, and depth. About two thirds into the film is a scene where a storm kicks up, howling wind, music, dialog, and gunfire ring out to great effect and never have to compete over one another. From the opening bank robbery and raid on the town, imaging gets a great workout as sound effects travel around the front two channels in an effective, natural way.
There are no special features.
Half the fun of watching a movie you’ve never seen before, let alone maybe have ever heard of, is that it can become a welcome addition to your collection. Given the plot description, I wasn’t expecting to like ‘Stranger At My Door’ all that much. In fact I half expected to savage it in this review, but as a wiser man than I once said, “Announcing your plans is the quickest way to hear God laugh.” As a fan of obscure movies, especially thrillers, horror films, and westerns, I have to tip my hat to Olive Films for bringing this one to Blu-ray. While the disc is devoid of any extra features, the strong HD presentation and audio tracks complement this film nicely, helping me recommend this title to people willing to give it a shot.