Maddy Loves Her Classic Movies and Crystal of In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood are the hosts of The Joseph Cotten Blogathon running from September 5th to September 7th.
Walk Softly, Stranger is a redemptive romance with noir trimmings. A man played by Joseph Cotten tosses a coin and decides "The Little Big City of Ashton - Home of Corelli Shoes" is the place to discard his past and start a new life. A little research provides him with an "in" as the surrogate son/boarder with a widow played by Spring Byington. Her friendship with a foreman at the shoe factory gets the fellow she knows as Chris Hale an entry-level job at the establishment. Using a phoney history as a former resident of the town, "Chris" ingratiates himself with wealthy Elaine Corelli.
Joseph Cotten, Valli
Alida Valli plays Elaine, a beautiful socialite who lost the use of her legs in a San Moritz skiing accident. She has been isolating herself and sheltering her heart. The intriguing and seemingly straight-forward Chris Hale interests her, makes her smile, and makes her dream.
The man we know as Hale has a shady past as a gambler, a con man, and a thief. Leaving town one weekend, he and a compatriot played by Paul Stewart rob a casino owned by Howard Petrie. The thinking is that the purveyor of an illegal establishment will be loath to call the police to report the crime. Of course, that doesn't prevent the gambler from seeking his own retribution. Chris Hale feels safe in his new identity and advises his partner in crime to do likewise.
Joseph Cotten, Spring Byington, Paul Stewart
Months pass and the relationship between Chris and Elaine grows to the point where she becomes afraid of her emotions and travels to forget him. However, as the Christmas holiday approaches she cannot resist the idea of the two of them and returns to Ashton. Their affection and plans for the future bloom over some lovely Christmas scenes, which includes carolers, and a festive New Year's Eve. Stubbornly, Chris is ignoring the presence in Ashton of his now broke and frightened fellow thief. Revenge is also coming to Ashton.
Walk Softly, Stranger benefits from the direction of Robert Stevenson (Jane Eyre, Mary Poppins). I find in this, and much of Stevenson's work, a real feel for his characters and setting. In the case of this RKO production, the cast of the people surrounding Chris and Elaine are excellent. Along with Spring Byington, there is Esther Dale as Elaine's confidante and housekeeper, Frank Puglia as Mr. Corelli, Jack Paar as a work pal, and John McIntire as the factory foreman. Unfortunately, the script offers no sure intention from beginning to end which mares the finer components of the film.
Joseph Cotten is excellent at portraying the dual nature of his character. Everything he says since hitting town has been a lie, but his faux sincerity works on everyone. When do his feelings become real and when does he realize it? Perhaps it is not until he feels the noose tighten and confesses to Elaine that he didn't realize he could have what he wanted any other way. Perhaps it was when he realized that what he wanted wasn't what he needed.