Janet Leigh makes an impressive debut alongside Van Johnson in this historical romance in which a farmer's daughter falls in love with a man who fought against her family in the Civil War. ...
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Andrew L. Stone
Janet Leigh makes an impressive debut alongside Van Johnson in this historical romance in which a farmer's daughter falls in love with a man who fought against her family in the Civil War. Into a Missouri farming community living in a state of constant tension due to conflicting pro-North and pro-South sentiments ambles ex-Union soldier Henry Carson (Van Johnson), who briefly camps out at the farm of unforgiving Confederate sympathizer Gill MacBean (Thomas Mitchell). Suspecting that Carson is up to no good, MacBean is outraged when the handsome stranger begins courting MacBean's daughter Lissy Anne (Leigh). Things come to a head dramatically when the heretofore easygoing Carson comes face to face with a band of hooded, night-riding barn burners who've been fomenting discord among the farmers.
This film, based on a story by the author MacKinlay Kantor (who was very popular in the 1930s-1950s period), is a delightful change from the urban tales usually emanating from Hollywood. It is possible that the film's title matches that of the original story, but I must point out that Rosy Ridge is never mentioned in the film itself, not that it matters (it is presumably the name of the location of the story). This film is set in the edge of the Ozarks in Missouri in 1865, amidst the seething tensions and hatreds of the locals who fought on the northern side of the Civil War and those who fought for the south. For those who don't know, there were two American states which were forced by the awkwardness of their geographical positions to remain officially neutral in the Civil War, and they were known as 'Border States'. One was Kentucky, whose sympathies were with the South but which did not dare declare for the South, and the other was Missouri, where sympathies were more evenly divided. This film was largely shot on location somewhere like Missouri, and it might even have been Missouri, who knows. There is a singular amount of authenticity to this film, especially in the flowery old-fashioned dialect used by the supporting actors. The script by Lester Cole (1904-1985, his last script being BORN FREE in 1966) therefore deserves a lot of praise, although that dialogue may have been lifted from Kantor's original. This was Janet Leigh's first film, and as the heroine, she makes a fresh-faced, smiling ingénue with doe eyes who leapt into everyone's hearts, and it made her a star. She would eventually appear in 86 films, the last one being released the year after her death in 2004. She was one of America's best-loved film actresses. Janet Leigh's father, somewhat too gruff and over-acted by Thomas Mitchell, is a fanatical Southern sympathiser who hates all Yankees. He and his wife and daughter and young son wait forlornly for the return of the older son, Ben, who may never be coming back from the War, and whose fate is unknown. They are poor arable farmers who live in a log cabin. Their next door neighbours supported the northern side, and they don't speak to one another. There is a lot of barn-burning going on, attributed whether rightly or wrongly to vicious Yankees, since all the barns which are burnt belong to Southern sympathisers. A different complexion is put on this towards the latter part of the film. A lot of Southern supporters are thus driven out and leave Missouri for good, going out West to what are called 'the Territories', which have not yet become the Western and Middle Western states. One evening a mysterious man, played by the ever-cheerful Van Johnson, walks down the lane near the log cabin playing the harmonica to himself and carrying a few belongings over his shoulder. He is clearly a former soldier, though of which army cannot be determined. He strikes up a conversation with Leigh's family the MacBeans and is given supper, then invited to stay the night, and he stays on and helps with the harvest. He and Leigh fall in love. But there are many complications and twists to the story, such as how and why did he happen to turn up at the MacBeans. I don't wish to spoil any of the mystery of this fine country tale, so I say no more. But this is a very wholesome and refreshing story of real country folk which is very ably directed by Roy Rowland (1910-1995), a New Yorker by origin and no countryman, who directed Margaret O'Brien the next year in TENTH AVENUE ANGEL (1948), directed Van Johnson the year after that in the film noir THE SCENE OF THE CRIME (1949), and is best known as the director of the later film noir WITNESS TO MURDER (1954) with Barbara Stanwyck.
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