Cast & Crew
When a man calling himself Chris Hale arrives at the doorstep of her Ashton, Ohio house, asking to see his childhood home, widow Mrs. Brentman gladly invites him in. The unemployed Chris then accepts Mrs. Brentman's offer of a room and takes a job in the shipping department of the Corelli shoe factory. One night, Chris wanders into the Ashton country club and meets Elaine Corelli, his boss's beautiful but paralyzed daughter. Speaking of the days when he used to deliver newspapers to her door and adored her from afar, Chris amuses and fascinates the once-vibrant Elaine. The next day, Chris is called in to see Elaine's father A. J., who tells him that Elaine was so taken with him that she asked that he be given a better job in sales. Chris declines the offer, but assures Corelli, who is devoted to his daughter, that he will explain his decision to Elaine. As promised, Chris, a confessed gambler and drifter, shows up at the Corelli home to talk with Elaine. Although Chris's explanations are vague, his self-deprecating humor relaxes Elaine, who is finally able to joke about the skiing accident that left her paralyzed. The next morning, Chris flies to another city for a rendezvous with petty criminal Whitey Lake, who calls him "Steve." Chris and Whitey then rob gambling house owner Bowen of $200,000 in cash, knowing that the crime will never be reported. After advising Whitey to "disappear," Chris returns to Ashton and accepts an invitation for a double date from co-worker Ray Healy. When he then runs into Elaine, however, Chris breaks the date and takes the reluctant heiress to a working class nightclub. Chris's jilted date, Gwen, is also at the club and denounces him in front of Elaine. Although Chris wins a joking bet with Elaine that he can get Gwen to dance with him, Elaine grows despondent watching her would-be rival dance. Sure that Chris will come to resent her paralysis, Elaine leaves suddenly for Florida. When she returns at Christmas, however, Chris resumes his pursuit, and by New Year's Eve, the two are deeply in love. Chris's newfound happiness is shortlived, however, as Whitey shows up, broke and scared. Chris insists that Whitey, who is being chased by Bowen, stay locked up in Mrs. Brentman's house until he can figure out an escape plan. Whitey's nerves are soon frayed, and he begins tearing apart Chris's room in search of Bowen's money. Then, after he learns that Chris is sending Mrs. Brentman to see her son's grave in Arlington Cemetery, Whitey, who takes afternoon walks in defiance of Chris's orders, becomes convinced that his friend intends to kill him during her absence. Chris finally calms and reassures the now-hysterical Whitey, and sees Mrs. Brentman off at the airport. As he is driving home, he realizes that he is being followed by two men, but manages to reach Elaine's without detection. Chris confesses all to an understanding Elaine, who advises him to return the money. Elaine also reveals that, as she moved to Ashton as a teenager, she knew all along that he was lying about his past. By the time Chris returns to Mrs. Brentman's, Whitey has been killed and the money, reclaimed. The killers then take Chris to see the vengeful Bowen, who, while riding in a car with his prisoner, suggests they both rob Elaine of her fortune. Disgusted, Chris tries to take Bowen's driver by surprise, but is shot by Bowen in the ensuing struggle. The car crashes, and Chris winds up in a police hospital. As the recuperated Chris is about to be transferred to prison, Elaine visits and vows to wait until his release, when he will finally need her the way she has always needed him.
St. Luke's Choristers
Russell A. Cully
Albert S. D'agostino
Richard Van Hessen
Harry J. Wild
Walk Softly, Stranger
In the film, Cotten portrays a gambler who breezes into Ashton, a small town in Ohio. He knocks on the door of lonely Mrs. Brentman, claiming to have lived in the house as a boy. When Mrs. Brentman, played by a chirpy Spring Byington, remarks that he must be Chris Hale, he agrees, though the viewer suspects that he is not who he claims to be. Mrs. Brentman, a widow who has lost her only son in the war, invites Chris to rent "his old room," and he accepts. She also gets him a job in the local shoe factory owned by the Corelli family. Chris meets Elaine Corelli, played by Italian actress Alida Valli, at the local country club, and the two strike up a melancholy conversation. Elaine has lost interest in life after being paralyzed in a skiing accident, but she warms to Chris who claims to have had a boyhood crush on her.
Chris's true identity is revealed when he travels to another state to rob a gambling boss of $200,000 with his partner Whitey Lake, played by Paul Stewart. After the robbery, Chris plans to return to Ashton and romance Elaine in order to bilk her out of part of the family fortune. The unlikely romance turns out to be real, and Chris falls in love with Elaine. But, his new life is threatened when Whitey, who is broke, scared, and on the lam from the gambling boss, tracks him down in Ashton. In the process of dealing with his shady past, Chris redeems himself but not without paying for his crimes. The film ends on an upbeat note with Elaine promising to wait for Chris.
The arrival of Cotten's character into tiny Ashton spins off his role in Alfred Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt (1943) in which he portrayed a serial killer who brought evil to small-town America. Stranger's opening scene depicts Cotten looking over the little valley town while a billboard for Ashton looms in the background, suggesting that some menace is about to disrupt the peaceful townsfolk. So Cotten is suspect right away because of his association with the Hitchcock film, and those suspicions are soon confirmed when he assumes the identity of Chris Hale. Chris turns out to be less evil than Shadow's Uncle Charlie because he is redeemed when he falls in love in a near-impossible romance, not unlike the doomed relationship in Portrait of Jennie or the tainted one in The Third Man. Cotten's low-key personality and resonant voice were perfect for playing either elegant gentlemen come-a-courtin' or mysterious characters with something to hide -- or both.
Despite making clever use of Joseph Cotten's star image, Walk Softly, Stranger was a box-office flop. Originally titled Weep No More, the film was supposedly offered to Alfred Hitchcock, with Cary Grant tapped to star, though that may have been only industry scuttlebutt. By the time production got underway at RKO, Cotten and Valli were the stars, and Robert Stevenson was assigned to direct. The film was produced under the reign of Dore Schary, who had been named executive vice president in charge of production at RKO around 1947. In the postwar era, Schary was one of a handful of notable executive producers interested in making films dealing with serious social issues, such as Crossfire (1947), a film about bigotry. In that vein, the bitter aftermath of World War II hangs over Stranger like a black cloud: Mrs. Brentman's son was killed in the war, leaving her a lonely, grieving mother; Elaine assumes Chris Hale's melancholy and cynicism are the result of his experiences in the war. This minor bit of social criticism regarding the effects of war on the homefront suited Dore Schary's interests. Unfortunately for Schary, his liberal agenda clashed with the personality of Howard Hughes who bought RKO in 1948--the year Walk Softly, Stranger was shot. When Schary left RKO after weeks of fighting with Hughes, the billionaire shelved the film.
Hughes contemplated releasing the film in February, 1949 to take advantage of the good publicity of The Third Man, also starring Cotten and Valli, but instead, he opted to shoot a new ending. With David O. Selznick's help, Hughes hired Oliver H.P. Garrett to write a new ending (Selznick sometimes collaborated with RKO; Cotten, Valli, and Stevenson were on loan from Selznick). Given Hughes's dislike of message films, it is likely that Garrett turned a downbeat ending in which Chris loses Elaine through his own failings into an optimistic conclusion with hope for the future. Walk Softly, Stranger was finally released the following year but tanked at the box office, losing $775,000.
Hughes's tinkering with the release schedule and lack of faith in Stranger doomed it to failure more than any shortcomings within the film itself. While not an influential classic or an example of innovative filmmaking, Walk Softly, Stranger is typical fare from the Golden Age in which a formulaic story is bolstered by solid performances and stellar cinematography.
Robert Stevenson had directed several dark melodramas for RKO and was at home with the studio's 1940s house style. The home of some of the best films noirs plus Val Lewton's horror cycle, RKO is acclaimed for its use of low-key and high-contrast lighting to enhance the storylines and themes of its narratives. Examples in Walk Softly, Stranger include a scene in which Chris talks to Mrs. Brentman about "his friend," a card sharp who is in trouble. But, the troubled gambler is really talking about himself. As Mrs. Brentman listens in the foreground, Chris lingers in the dark shadows of the midground, shrouding the character in mystery and suggesting he has something to hide from her and the viewer. At other times, a high-contrast lighting casts Chris's exact shadow shape against the wall, in effect showing us "two" Chris Hales in the manner of the German Expressionists who used this technique to indicate a doppelganger--a character with two sides to him. And, like many of RKO's films noirs, Walk Softly, Stranger offers the theme that no one can escape his past; the gloomy, atmospheric lighting styles help support this dark theme. The lighting in the film is not only beautiful but meaningful, adding atmosphere and depth to the story.
Despite the claims of some, the failure of Walk Softly, Stranger did not hurt the careers of the principals. Cotten went on to make other high-profile films, including Niagara (1953) with Marilyn Monroe; Stevenson moved to Disney where he directed such classics as Old Yeller (1957) and Mary Poppins (1964); Schary enjoyed a successful career at MGM; and Valli returned to Europe, where she continued to make films for several decades.
Producer: Robert Sparks
Director: Robert Stevenson
Screenplay: Frank Fenton; Manuel Seff, Paul Yawitz (story)
Cinematography: Harry J. Wild
Art Direction: Albert S. D'Agostino, Alfred Herman
Music: Friedrich Hollaender
Film Editing: Frederic Knudtson
Cast: Joseph Cotten (Chris Hale aka Steve), Alida Valli (Elaine Corelli), Spring Byington (Mrs. Brentman), Paul Stewart (Whitey Lake), Jack Paar (Ray Healy), Jeff Donnell (Gwen), John McIntire (Morgan), Howard Petrie (Bowen), Frank Puglia (A.J. Corelli), Esther Dale (Miss Thompson), Marlo Dwyer (Mabel), Robert Ellis (Skating Boy).
by Susan Doll
Walk Softly, Stranger
The working title of this film was Weep No More. According to a March 1947 Variety news item, Alfred Hitchcock was first considered to direct the film, and Cary Grant to star. Made in early 1948, Walk Softly, Stranger was the last RKO picture to boast a Dore Schary credit. (Schary left the studio in the spring of 1948 after a disagreement with RKO owner Howard Hughes.) According to modern sources, Hughes shelved the film soon after its completion, but decided in February 1949 to release it, hoping to capitalize on the success of Carol Reed's film The Third Man , which also starred Joseph Cotten and Valli. The New York Times review commented that Walk Softly, Stranger was "apparently withheld from release in the expectation of enhancement of its 'star value' from the Carol Reed film." In March 1949, Variety announced that Hughes and Selznick had decided to shoot a new ending for the picture, which was to be written by Oliver H. P. Garrett. The extent of Garrett's contribution to the final film is not known. In addition to Cotten and Valli, RKO borrowed director Robert Stevenson from David O. Selznick's company. This was the last film on which Selznick and RKO collaborated. According to a February 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item, Selznick was promised a percentage of the profits from this film and Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House in exchange for Schary's release from his Selznick contract. According to modern sources, the film lost $775,000 and was RKO's biggest flop of the year.