In 1948, RKO released a fun little western that featured a young William Holden looking to replace his dead wife and instead of doing it the old-fashioned way, he buys one instead. So it is that Loretta Young, who plays the indentured servant, begins her new life as a wife and a mother, all the while calling her husband Mr. Harvey because he is more her boss than anything else. Of course, when Robert Mitchum enters the picture as a freewheeling wanderer and friend of the family, feelings start to make themselves known and a love triangle soon makes itself known and it is a battle for the affections of Young between Mitchum and Holden.
Rachel and the Stranger is an interesting western film as it features very little of what is normally found in a movie from the genre. Primarily, the film is a drama and takes place in one static setting being the family farm belonging to David Harvey. There is some light-hearted comedy sprinkled throughout to keep the mood from becoming too heavy and thanks to Mitchum’s easy-going personality, you cannot help but smile whenever he shows up to cause a little consternation for Holden’s character. Mitchum even sings and plays guitar to make things a little more enjoyable as it is something you would not normally expect from the man. As the film progresses, Young’s character goes from being quiet and introverted to outspoken and authoritative and she soon wins over the hearts of the people involved in her life. Everyone does a great job in their respective roles and though there is little to no suspense, no tension and no action, the film holds your attention as thoroughly as anything else simply through the power of their performances and the steady direction of Norman Foster.
One of the more noteworthy things to appear in this picture is how Loretta is a bonded servant; a woman bought and paid for to serve her master in whatever way he sees fit. Luckily, Holden’s character David is a fairly nice man as things could have taken a much different turn. The film does not really tackle the issue or any of the aspects of what it means to be a contract servant, it simply treats it as a fact. Loretta was bought and paid for, they eventually fall in love, story over. Aside from that, little would actually separate this film from the masses except for its exceedingly entertaining nature.
Whether as a drama a western or a comedy, Rachel and the Stranger works on all counts and is an immensely satisfying movie to pass away the time with. Holden, Young and Mitchum are excellent in it, as is a young Gary Gray who plays the little boy and there really are no faults to be found in this picture whatsoever. In all, the movie is harmless fun and sometimes that can be the best kind.