Stranger in Town A (1943)

Stranger in Town A (1943)

Directed by Roy Rowland and co-written by Isobel Lennart (The Sundowners (1960)) this above average B-movie comedy drama stars Frank Morgan (in the title role) as a supreme court associate justice on a much needed vacation that can’t keep from meddling in a small city’s affairs when he sees injustices being committed. Richard Carlson plays a lawyer who’s running for mayor against the town’s powerful & corrupt incumbent that Morgan’s character along with his legal assistant (played by Jean Rogers) decides to help. Porter Hall plays the local judge who’s in the mayor’s (Robert Barrat) back pocket and Donald MacBride plays one of the town’s businessmen who’s benefited from the mayor’s corruption. Chill Wills appears as Carlson’s campaign manager.

Justice John Grant (Morgan) is burned out and cranky after a recent supreme court session and wants nothing more than to get away and go hunting. His assistant Lucy Gilbert (Rogers) promises not to tell anyone where he’s going but plans to rendezvous with him later to go over some cases. He finds a small city in which to be suitably anonymous and is about to shoot his first duck when the local fish & game official (Irving Bacon) catches him. The official informs the stranger that in addition to the state hunting license he’d purchased he’ll also need a stamp from his local jurisdiction. The official offers to sell Mr. Grant a $5 stamp and then asks for graft. This enrages the judge who wishes to remain anonymous and have others know him as Mr. Grant (retired) such that the two show up in Judge Harkley’s (Hall) court. Grant witnesses a young lawyer Bill Adams (Carlson) lose a case before the judge which costs his client Tom Cooney (Walter Baldwin) his farm’s tractor. Adams is running for office against the incumbent Mayor Connison (Barrat) so his loss in court likely also costs him votes. Grant then proceeds to loose his case before the judge and has to pay the court clerk $100.

Later while Grant is getting a shave in the local barber shop Adams joins him and gives him the lay of the land. There’s a lot of corruption in their small town led by Mayor Connison and his cronies who run the local businesses. Vinnie Blaxton (MacBride) who owns the used car dealership and just won the right to repossess Cooney’s tractor is one of them. He struts in with the Mayor and gets in a brief scuffle with Adams. After the barber (Olin Howland) tries unsuccessfully to cheat Grant he walks by Adams’s offices and decides to go in to have a conversation with the young man. Adams doesn’t appear as motivated to Grant as one should who is trying to bring down a corrupt administration. They are joined by Charles Craig (Chill Wills) who is Adams’s campaign manager. Both are impressed by Mr. Grant’s knowledge who uses it to direct Adams to a certain statute that could help Craig to keep from suffering the same fate as Cooney. In Judge Harkley’s court the next day Adams successfully defends Craig against Blaxton which earns him several high fives in the gallery as well as some fresh campaign contributions which Craig uses to buy signs equal and adjacent to Connison’s.

While Grant is out hunting Adams picks up Lucy at the train station. After some humorous moments that fail to leave a positive first impression on her Adams then ends up fighting the hotel manager (Andrew Tombes) and his staff when they won’t let her check-in per her association with Adams. The hotel is part of Connison’s cartel. When Grant arrives after a day of hunting and finds out what happened he demands that Lucy and Adams are released. He then uses both of them to investigate the hotel; they find that the sheets & pillowcases aren’t regulation. So the next day in Harkley’s court they receive another judgment in their favor which wins Adams more money & votes. But the next day Connison has arranged for Adams’s offices to be emptied on the street because of a termite infestation and then has some thugs incite a riot. When Grant arrives he is struck on the head and has to be hospitalized. Again Adams is willing to concede defeat before Grant promotes a different course of action.

*** SPOILERS ***

In fact it is now time for Judge Grant to reveal to Judge Harkley who he is in order to bring criminal charges against Mayor Connison. All too conveniently Grant was able to find three of the thugs who were willing to admit to being paid by Connison to start the fight in front of Adams’s office. Rather than accept incarceration in the middle of his election eve rally Connison demands an immediate hearing to clear his name. All parties proceed to Harkley’s courtroom where Connison begins to malign the trouble causing “stranger in town” Mr. Grant. Grant then introduces himself as a supreme court associate justice and Connison wilts before everyone’s eyes. Judge Grant then gives a patriotic speech about “a government for the people by the people” etc. which brings down the house in applause. The last scene is back in Washington D.C. with the judge discussing his presiding over Lucy’s wedding to Adams later that day. He then joins his fellow justices who notice a more positive individual than the one that left their last session.

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