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Local Politics Turned Upside Down When There's A Stranger in Town

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Dusty is an avid classic movie fan who wants to share movie stories and evoke conversation about them.

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A Stranger in Town

1 hr. 7 mins. Comedy, Drama, Romance 1943 7.1 stars

Director: Roy Rowland

Cast: Frank Morgan - John Josephus Grant

Richard Carlson - Bill Adams

Jean Rogers - Lucy Gilbert

Porter Hall - Judge Austin Harkley

Robert Barrat - Mayor Connison

Donald McBride - Vinnie Z. Blaxton

Walter Baldwin - Tom Cooney

Andrew Tombes - Roscoe Swade

Chill Wills - Charles Craig

Note: Spoiler alert. This review reveals the outcome of the movie

Joe Visits Bill to Try to Coax Him into Fighting for His Client in Court

Frank Morgan and Richard Carlson

Frank Morgan and Richard Carlson


Justice John Josephus Grant of the Supreme Court in Washington, DC is taking a vacation to go duck hunting. He wants to get away from the crowds, the journalists and the publicity that constantly dogs him so he doesn’t tell anyone, except his secretary, Lucy, where he is going. He wants to be as anonymous as possible; he just wants to be plain old Joe Grant.

He arrives in the little town of Crownport and heads out to a pond to start hunting, but before he can bag his first bird he is interrupted by the local game warden and it comes to light that his hunting license lacks the local stamp. The game warden offers to sell him one, but then wants some additional money for the convenience. At that point plain old Joe Grant draws the line, and the game warden hauls him in to court.

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At the court we see the previous case ending with a decision which seems to be improper. It seems to smack of corruption. The defense attorney, Bill Adams, does a poor job and his client may be driven out of business and off his property. Not only is Bill Adams a young attorney, he is also a candidate for mayor. He is running against an incumbent who is much more politically savvy and who has many cronies in town including it would seem the local judge. That incumbent is named Connison.

After Joe’s trial, which resulted in a fine, he stops at the local barber shop for a shave and he runs into Bill Adams there. Joe observes how Bill is treated by the older men who hang out at the barber shop. Mayor Connison comes in and addresses Bill in a condescending manor. Bill’s client also comes in and almost starts a fight with the man who sued him.

When Joe’s shave is done and he prepares to leave he watches in the mirror as the 25 cent shave sign is reversed to indicate that it is now a 50 cent charge. He realizes that he is also becoming a victim of this corrupt little town. He calls their bluff, reverses the price sign and departs. He now goes to Bill’s office to talk about his campaign and about his courtroom presence. Joe tells Bill that in the past he used to be a lawyer and he challenged Bill to study some old law books and find a law that will help his client and others like him. Bill does so and soon finds a law, an angle he can use on his next case. With Joe accompanying him in the courtroom he wins his case!

In the meantime Lucy, Joe’s secretary, comes to town to bring him some important documents. Joe has Bill go to the train station to meet her, as Joe is off hunting. Bill is instantly smitten with her, and in his nervousness he acts clumsily, not at all making a good first impression. When they arrive at the hotel the staff there treats Lucy with suspicion, a single woman traveling without luggage. The hotel manager is a crony of Mayor Connison and treats Bill and Lucy poorly. A fist fight breaks out and in short order both of them wind up in jail.

When Joe comes back from hunting and learns what has happened he is furious and demands that they be released. He meets with Bill and Lucy and devises a plan of finding some legal infractions the hotel is committing and taking them to court over their findings. Their plan works.

Throughout these activities a romance develops between Bill and Lucy.

Mayor Connison and his cronies don’t like the fact that Bill has appeared to grow a backbone and may even become a serious threat in the mayoral election so they get some agitators to work against Bill. They start by pulling some strings with the landlord for Bill’s office and in short order his desk and other personal effects are out on the street. Again a fight breaks out – more of a riot and damage is done to property. Joe arrives and tries to intervene but he is hit and knocked unconscious.

When Joe awakens in the hospital he is OK, but he decides to intervene, this time in the legal realm. He goes to the house of Judge Harkley and demands a word with him. Unbeknownst to everyone in the town Joe reveals to the judge that he is a US Supreme Court Justice. Thus Judge Harkley emerges from his house moments later a changed man. Bill’s friend Charles Craig is dumbfounded; he can’t understand what Joe could have said to persuade Judge Harkley to swear out a warrant for Mayor Connison and his cronies. Assuming Joe must have something on him Charles asks Joe, “Do you know something about him?” Joe replies, “On the contrary; he knows something about me.”

In the next scene Mayor Connison is giving a speech at his campaign rally when Bill Adams, who Connison had thought he had put in jail, shows up. Further more police officers attempt to arrest Mayor Connison and his cronies.

A court session is convened and when Mayor Connison demands to know by what authority they come in to arrest him. Joe stands up and answers his question by identifying himself as a United States Supreme Court Justice. At this news Bill faints and Connison sinks. Joe goes on to make a patriotic speech about American values and their fragility.

In the denouement Joe in black robes prepares to marry Bill and Lucy.

Joe Confronts the Corrupt Hotel Owner, Roscoe Swade

Frank Morgan and Andew Tombes

Frank Morgan and Andew Tombes


Nothing boosts a sense of pride in country like a good patriotic speech and that is exactly what this movie delivers. The story has a moral to it and that is what Joe Grant explains to his listeners in the courtroom. It is a powerful message about both the privilege of being an American and the responsibilities that accompany that privilege. The speech comes just after the climactic scene where he reveals his identity as a Supreme Court justice. The revealing of a hero’s hidden identity is usually reserved for comic strips and super hero stories. In this case it is no less dramatic. His identity is hidden from the public throughout the movie as he coaches a young honest lawyer and mayoral candidate in a politically corrupt town. Joe wants to get away from all such matters as he is on vacation. But the corruption he sees rankles him and he is very much at home in the domain of the law and the courtroom. It is his knowledge that fascinates the young lawyer, but it is his identity that forces the surrender of the corrupt.

There are several movies that were made around this time, 1943, that were intended to fire up a sense of patriotism in their audiences. But the lessons taught at that time still possess a strong application for today. Anyone who watches this movie today will recognize that immediately because we still struggle with corruption in government. I suspect that will always be a struggle for us.

Coupled with the political excitement the movie delivers a romance for us to enjoy and an unlikely one at that. When Lucy comes to town to deliver documents to Joe she meets Bill who was sent to meet her at the train station. She is profoundly unimpressed with him. Yet somehow despite Bill's bumbling she falls for him and her presence is helpful to him in his political crusade. The movie does include some brawls, one in which Lucy participates, and it strikes me as being inconsistent with her somewhat refined character, being a Supreme Court law clerk. If you just go along with it you'll find it helps to story along to have these brawls and it all makes for a delightful tale. Observe also that Justice Joe Grant is quite the scrappy character himself. This movie should be required viewing for all justices of the Supreme Court.

Justice John Josephus Grant Delivers a Patriotic Speech

Frank Morgan

Frank Morgan

Juistice Grant Prepares to Wed Bill and Lucy

Frank Morgan, Jean Rogers and Richard Carlson

Frank Morgan, Jean Rogers and Richard Carlson

Movie Trailer - Justice Grant's Patriotic Speech

The Entire Movie - Available for Free Here

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