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William D. Russell
Crusty Dr. McRory of Fallbridge, Maine hires a replacement for his vacation sight unseen. Alas, he and young singing doctor Jim Pearson don't hit it off; but Pearson is delighted to stay, once he meets teacher Trudy Mason. The locals, taking their cue from McRory, cold-shoulder Pearson, especially Trudy's stuffy fiancée. But then, guess who needs an emergency appendectomy? Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
WELCOME STRANGER (Paramount, 1947), directed by Elliott Nugent, with its dramatic sounding title, stars crooner Bing Crosby in another one of his most popular movies that's become forgotten during the course of the years. Aside from reuniting him with his charming BLUE SKIES (1946) co-star, Joan Caulfied, the attentions rests mainly on the reunion of Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald, stars and Academy Award winners from the Best Picture win of GOING MY WAY (1944). With Crosby and Fitzgerald playing priests with differences of opinion proved so successful, their second venture, basically the same premise, offers them another shot in the arm for their roles as doctors.
The story opens in Boston where Doctor Joseph McRory (Barry Fitzgerald), from the small town of Fallbridge, Maine, planning his first vacation in 35 years, arrives at the Physician and Surgeon Placement Bureau to meet with Mr. Daniels (Paul Stanton) to inquire about the doctor who's to fill in for him for the next two months. Being told that the selected Doctor Jim Pearson is on his way to Fallbridge, McRory takes the next train home to meet with him. While on board, McRory encounters a fellow passenger (Bing Crosby) who, through no fault of his own, constantly gets on his nerves. Upon his return, McCrory gets to meet Pearson, who turns out to be the stranger he met on the train. Going over his qualifications, he finds Pearson incompetent, resenting his down-to-earth medical methods, the clothes he wears, and occasional singing. Pearson soon meets Trudy Mason (Joan Caulfield), a local schoolteacher who volunteers her time assisting McRory at his clinic, who, too, finds the new city doctor quite arrogate and taking an instant dislike to him as well. As he tries to get to know her better, she informs him she's engaged to Roy Chesley (Robert Shayne), the town pharmacist. As much as Pearson has become an unwelcome stranger in town, the only one who's grown to like him is McRory's housekeeper, Mrs. Gilley (Elizabeth Patterson), who offers him advise how to improve himself, like "by not talking so much." As McRory gets to go on his long awaited fishing trip, an emergency occurs that prevents him from going. Through the course of time, Pearson proves himself an asset to the community, though McRory continues to have his doubts about him. Situations occur when Charles J. Chesley (Charles Dingle), head of the town council, arranges to phase McRory out of his profession in favor of a much younger doctor, Ronnie Jenks (Larry Young), to take charge of the hospital.
In the supporting cast are Wanda Hendrix as Emily, a young teenager with a crush on the Pearson; Frank Faylen as Bill Waters, Emily's father and editor of the Fallbridge Weekly newspaper with a drinking problem; Percy Kilbride in his droll but amusing pre-"Pa Kettle" caricature of Nat Dorkas, a local taxi driver; Thurston Hall appearing briefly as Congressman Beeker; as well as the film's own director, Elliott Nugent assuming a small role as Doctor White.
Concentrating more on plot than songs, it's become one of the least tuneful of the Crosby films at that time. All sung by Bing Crosby, the motion picture soundtrack, with songs by James Van Heusen and Johnny Burke, include: "Smile Right Back at the Sun," "Country Style," "My Heart is a Hobo," and "As Long as I'm Dreaming." "Country Style" is a highlight production where everyone gathers together in the barn as Crosby's character calls to lead and sing to a square dance. For the fishing sequence with Fitzgerald, Crosby catches more fish through his singing of "My Heart is a Hobo." "As Long as I'm Dreaming," is a nice tune worthy of mention set on a sleigh ride, through nothing close to becoming an Academy Award nominee as "Swinging on a Star" from GOING MY WAY.
WELCOME STRANGER has that sort of feel-good style of either directors Frank Capra or Leo McCarey. In true Crosby tradition, his character looks on the positive side regardless of negative obstacles. Crosby and Fitzgerald make a grand pair of opposites, which is why their chemistry works so well. Comparing their performances here to GOING MY WAY would not be out of the ordinary. Though teamed together again in TOP O THE MORNING (1949), it proved to be the weakest of their three collaborations and least known and revived. Taking a cue from Bob Hope comedies, Crosby gets into the act by throwing in an in-joke on his own. Being told there's Bob Hope movie being shown in town, Crosby's character naturally passes it up. The best portion of the entire film, however, in regards to comedy, is the official meeting between Crosby and Fitzgerald meet, where everything seems to go wrong.
Formerly shown on cable television's American Movie Classics (1995-1998), later on Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: January 24, 2013), and placed on video cassette in 1995, and a decade later on DVD as a companion piece to Crosby's earlier underrated gem, SING YOU SINNERS (1938), WELCOME STRANGER, as a whole, may not offer much by ways of excitement of car chases or courtroom tactics. In general, it's a simple leisurely-paced story with well-developed character study on small town folks living in country style, with diagnoses as to how opposites attract, especially these pipe smoking doctors having more in common besides the use of stethoscopes.(*** surgical gloves).
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