Civil War veteran Josiah Grey comes to a small town to be a gospel minister. In time he has a family and many friends, but he also finds friction with a few of his parishioners. A young doctor grates at what he feels is the parson's interference in the scientific treatment of patients, and a mine owner resents Grey's protection of an old sharecropper whose small plot of land stands in the way of his continued mining. Grey must face a public health crisis and a lynch mob as a result, all seen and described through the eyes and memory of Grey's young nephew John. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
The master of ambiguous Gothic horror does sentimental faith-restoring family drama and does it well!
This, the second of director Jacques Tourneur's westerns after CANYON PASSAGE and one of several collaborations with actor Joel McCrea, finds him at least at first sight as far removed from the ambiguous psychological Gothic horror films he became famous through a couple years back for Val Lewton's RKO horror unit, yet once we scratch the surface, peel back the layers of faith-restoring sentimentality which lies at the film's core, we'll find this can be a pretty dark film.
Not only because the life of a small rural town in the post-Civil War South has to face a typhoid epidemic and Klan racism because the 'family' nature of the film ensures these are merely obstacles to be overcome, each of them a lesson learned in Christian love and brotherhood not only for the characters but also for the audience, but mostly because of the way Tourneur shoots the major set-pieces that revolve around them. Going back to what he learnt next to Val Lewton at RKO, Tourneur gives an otherwise saccharine film a dark underbelly, Klansmen pinning threatening notes on negros in front of burning crosses et al.
Yet STARS IN MY CROWN never feels like a film whose message and theme is beneath the director. Tourneur approaches the story in earnest. The truth is that it takes a while for things to get going. That the film is a bit too episodic and scattershot to really register until the final 15 minutes when parson Joel McCrea has to face off alone with a mob of Klansmen to save the life of a negro. That the small vignettes scattered throughout the film push the two major plots (smalltown biggotry and typhoid epidemic) a bit too far apart, the result making the first half a pretty meandering anemic affair. But the denouement, for all its saccharine 'everybody gets together to sing hymns in the church' quality, feels honest and I find it hard to fault such a film. Building something as emotionally earnest and unassuming as this is harder than tearing it down with cynicism.
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