Deep Valley (1947)
Directed by Jean Negulesco whose next film Johnny Belinda (1948) would earn him his only Oscar recognition (a Best Director nomination) with a screenplay co-written by Stephen Morehouse Avery (The Gay Deception (1935)) this below average drama’s high point is its recognizable cast which includes the lovely & delicate Ida Lupino Dane Clark Wayne Morris Fay Bainter Henry Hull and Willard Robertson. Unfortunately the story is neither compelling nor overly credible and the acting is ordinary despite the aforementioned actors. Lupino plays Libby Saul the daughter of an estranged couple who are still living under the same (albeit dilapidated) roof. Because she’s spent a third of her 22+ years taking care of her mother Ellie (Bainter) who never leaves her upstairs room and the fact that she stutters after she’d witnessed her father Cliff (Hull) hitting Ellie all those years ago Libby’s social development was stifled. This makes her ripe for a relationship with quick tempered escaped convict Barry Burnette (Clark) from a nearby highway construction project run by Jeff Barker (Morris). Robertson plays Sheriff Akers the lawman in the remote area where the Sauls live that’s hunting Burnette.
Because life at home is so unhappy Libby escapes to the woods with her dog every chance she gets. There is even a rundown cabin in the woods near where they live. The area is so remote that the (Pacific Coast?) highway is being built along the ocean by convicts. The guards move their prisoners to whatever area lead engineer Barker tells them needs work. Convict Barry notices Libby and her dog above them on a ridge where she watches them work to spend the time. One day Barker & crew drive up to the Saul home which they assume is empty & abandoned because it’s falling apart. However Libby and then Cliff come out to find out what they want. Barker’s team needs water and Cliff offers to sell it to them before he changes his mind and offers it for free. After this “misunderstanding” Cliff asks Barker if he would like to come by some evening to see Libby and play some cards with him. Libby witnesses Barry punch one of the guards over a wisecrack which causes him to be handcuffed and later locked into a hillside shed.
When Barker does visit the Sauls the socially immature Libby is put off by his too quick physical advances; she becomes standoffish. That night there’s a storm that causes an avalanche which frees Barry. Fed up with her parents’ unhappy home & non-existent relationship Libby runs away with her dog to the remote cabin. Surprise surprise Barry turns up there too AND they fall in love! Even more incredible is the fact that when she returns home to get supplies for them to run away together Libby sees that her mother is not only downstairs for the first time in years but she’s having breakfast with her father! To top it off Barry later comes to live in the family’s barn loft while law enforcement officers scan the area for him. The family dog is suddenly absent or not able to detect the presence of the stranger in their midst (or perhaps the dog is just not disturbed by his smell because it had met Barry with Lucy at the cabin previously?).
*** SPOILERS ***
Predictably crime doesn’t pay. It is Ellie and then Barker not Sheriff Akers who discovers and chases Barry into the inevitable and surprisingly brief chase scene. Even though Barry is shot (and ultimately mortally wounded) he is temporarily able to escape the amazingly mobile old Sheriff to the (who’d have thunk it?) same remote cabin in the woods where only Libby seems to be able to find him so that they can share a last tender moment before he dies remorseful of course.