Romance of Rosy Ridge, The (1947)
Directed by Roy Rowland, this above average post Civil War drama served as Janet Leigh's film debut. The titled romance is between Leigh and Van Johnson, a stranger who visits her family's farm in the still divided State of Missouri just months after the "war between the states" had ended. Because the color of his pants, not being blue nor gray, doesn't tip off his allegiance to the North or South, her "still loyal to the Confederacy" father (played by Thomas Mitchell) eyes him with suspicion. In fact, the Southern sympathizers are about to go to war again with those from their Ozark Mountain community who had sided with the North because their barns keep being burned by some black-hooded avengers by night. These former friends and neighbors are going to have to come together and start working again else the crops won't be brought in because of the labor shortage caused by the war. Johnson's character, a former schoolteacher, eventually becomes the needed change agent. Though the romance is integral to this process, it's the surprisingly relevant dialogue and quality supporting cast that makes this film worth watching today.
Another barn is burned and town shopkeeper Cal Baggett (Guy Kibbee) calls a meeting of "the gray group" to discuss what to do. John Dessark (Charles Dingle) and his son Badge (Jim Davis) are adamant about who's to blame, "the blue group", and what to do, run them off by force. Gill MacBean (Mitchell) is as committed to starting the fight again, and neither is businessman Baggett, who adjourns the meeting without a consensus. The MacBeans, who've been waiting four months for news about the fate of their soldier son Ben, are worried about how they're going to bring in their crops, especially since Gill refuses to accept any help from those, like his nearest neighbor, in the blue group. Their comely daughter Lissy (Leigh) and preteen boy Andrew (Dean Stockwell) can't even put out the fire to their family barn without help from their neighbors, who's assistance is barely acknowledged and is seemingly unappreciated by Gill. O. Z. Whitehead plays Ninny Nat, a musical local who carries the news over hill and dale throughout the community.
That evening, Henry Carson happens down the road playing his harmonica. It's dark, and Gill is unable to see the color of his pants, but that doesn't stop his wife Sairy (Selena Royle) from inviting Henry to supper. Henry proceeds to ingratiate, and then integrate, himself into the MacBean household, assisting first with repairing the barn, and then with bringing in the hay crop. All the while, Henry and Lissy makes eyes at each other and, later, they begin to discuss, in somewhat vague terms, a future together. As far as the conflict in the community goes, Henry gives Baggett the idea of hosting a play party on the sight of his grain storage facility, the other had been burned, for all comers. Cal's wife Emily (Elisabeth Risdon) tells him he's a fool, that no one will come or worse, that it will start trouble and he'll regret it. Though initially Gill insists that his family will skip the party because those in the blue group might be there, Henry tricks Gill into proclaiming that he isn't ashamed to stand up and be counted as a member of the gray group.
The party begins as one would expect with no one eating or dancing until Sairy crosses the aisle to ask Dan Yeary (Russell Simpson), her winning dance partner from eight years earlier, to dance. Everyone has a great time, with Henry singing one of his many songs (of the film) until he plays a tune that one of the gray group protests is a Northerner's jig. So the crowd divides and is split into two equally sized groups on either side of the dance floor. Gill notices that Henry has yet to choose a side and the truth comes out, as he admits the tune was one he'd learned in the Union Army. The party is over and everyone goes home, but not before Gill forbids Henry from ever setting foot on his property again. But Henry's decided to settle in the community and goes about building a schoolhouse, though he's not sure that anyone will come. Andrew does, though a week early, and upon returning the young lad to his home, Henry himself and then Lissy that he can't do without her. Though Sairy warns her daughter that leaving means she can never return, Lissy departs with Henry anyway. When Gill returns home, he's enraged and sets out after Lissy, finding the two of them the next morning at an abandoned farm Henry is hoping to refurbish. Just about that time, the black-hooded avengers rendezvous at the same location after burning yet another barn. Henry acts quickly, taking Gill's gun from him and systematically shooting each avenger off his horse. He chases the last one, who not surprisingly turns out to be Badge Dessark. After Henry beats him up, the entire community is grateful and the future looks bright once again.
But that's not the end of the story ...
*** SPOILERS ***
Henry returns to the MacBean home where he finally tells Gill and family his purpose for coming to their farm. He'd met Ben (Marshall Thompson) two years earlier when they became fast friends on their way to the front, before they learned that each was headed towards a different side. After a long talk, Henry went with Ben and fought for the Union Army against the Confederates. Before he'd died in battle, he made Henry promise to return to his family's farm to help bring in the crop. A teary eyed Gill gives Lissy and Henry his blessing.