Books, Films, Lobby

Walk Softly, Stranger (1950): Romantic Noir

Walk Softly, Stranger (1950)

A gambler on the skids pulls a heist as a final gambit after adopting
a false identity in a small town and falling for a rich crippled woman
(1948 RKO. Directed by Robert Stevenson 81 mins)

Cinematography by noir veteran Harry J. Wild
Screenplay by Manuel Seff and Paul Yawitz (adaptation of play by Frank Fenton)
Art Direction by RKO stalwart Albert S. D’Agostino, and Alfred Herman

Starring Joseph Cotten and Alida Valli

Although Walk Softly, Stranger was made before The Third Man (1949), its release was said to have been held off until after The Third Man to leverage the star appeal of Joseph Cotten and Alida Valli.  But the movie was panned by very faint praise from Bosley Crowther in his New York Times review on the film’s release, and is a sleeper.

I have always had a soft spot for Joseph Cotten, the modest everyman with unflinching decency and incredible loyalty, and I always fall in love with Alida Valli, Italy’s sensuous incarnation of Ingrid Bergman. Both these actors bring depth to this essentially b-romance with a noir arc, and Spring Byington is superb as the landlady who takes Cotten under her wing. The story is unusual enough to sustain interest until the climax, which is brief but effective. The script is literate and elegant, while also peppered with witty throwaway lines. There is a beautifully sardonic scene on the cusp of the climax with a car crashing into a billboard displaying a pointed advert.

The theme of the past catching up with noir protagonist is integral to the resolution, and Cotten toughens his persona credibly when he has to deal with an accomplice on-the-run and in confronting his pursuers. When he brutally punches his accomplice it is truly shocking, as such a violent reaction is at odds with his sincere affection for his landlady and poetic romancing of Valli.

This is a slow-moving noir with a hint of the classic women’s picture in the wooing and in the final redemptive scene, but rewards you with an honest story and memorable characters.

If you want dark dames and city streets menaced by violence, look elsewhere.

Walk Softly, Stranger (1950)Walk Softly, Stranger (1950)

15 Comments

  1. Salut! Tony D’Ambra,
    Je n’ai jamais regardé “Walk Softly, Strangers» avec Joseph Cotton et Alidi Valli. Au fait, où en est-bosley Crowther commentaires se termine et commence la vôtre? Je suis confus?!?

    DCD ;)

  2. My apologies for responding in English, dcd. To answer your question: the next paragraph :) My praise may be muted like the film itself, but it is hardly faint… en bientot

  3. Tony, I must confess that I honestly know nothing about this film, but I will ask Allan is he knows of it. In any case you do make it sound reasonably interesting, and like you I also have a soft spot for Joseph Cotten. “An honest story” and “memorable characters” are really all you could rightly expect from this. I see our good friend Albert D’Agostino is here again, and his tech contribution alone would make this a look-see. Too bad it isn’t presently available on DVD.

  4. Of course I failed to mention that another teaming of Cotten an dValli would make anyone’s pulse quicken. THE THIRD MAN is in my humble opinion the greatest British film ever made.

  5. Hi Sam. I saw it on late-nite TV over here, and the print was pretty sharp. I am with you all the way on The Third Man!

  6. Tony, this is quite a special little film, and thank you for pointing out its attributes. I love these lines: ” I have always had a soft spot for Joseph Cotten, the modest everyman with unflinching decency and incredible loyalty, and I always fall in love with Alida Valli, Italy’s sensuous incarnation of Ingrid Bergman.”

    And you’re right, though the film cannot compete with, say, Out of the Past, for depicting the cruelty of fate and the past of the protagonist catching up with him, this is nonetheless a very worthwhile effort all around. Great review!

  7. Thanks Alexander! Always a pleasure to receive your comments.

  8. I’ve been looking for it on e bay and elsewhere, and so far (unfortunately) I haven’t come across it. As a huge fan of THE THIRD MAN the casting really intrigues me. I will keep trying.

  9. It should be noted that Turner Classic Movies shows this from time to time.

    Not sure if you gentlemen get TCM. Perhaps next time they air it (which should be in December, since Joseph Cotten is their Star of the Month that month), I could record a copy or two. :-)

  10. Hi! Tony, Sam, and Alexander…
    @Tony, Thanks, for mentioning author Andrew Spicer’s book “Film Noir:Inside Film because I purchased it late last year and just placed it aside, now my “curiosity” has been “piqued” again!…Now I am giving it a second look!

    @Sam, Stop your searching!…Because you will receive an early Christmas gift!…Because Alexander is correct! Walk Softly, Stranger will air on TCM December 23, 2008. 10pm…Check your local listing!

    @Alexander, “Warm up! the “barbie” no, not the grill, but your (dvdr) in order to record copies of “Walk Softly, Stranger” for Sam and Tony.

    dcd ;)

  11. Hi! Sam,
    I know this really “nice” go to man (Whom I purchase films from…Believe me this man is responsible for my “instant” film noir collection!…I just started collecting film noir 2 and half years ago!)
    that live in Canada and he have a “master list” of hard and not-so-hard to find films.
    I can email you his “master list” if you want me to and additional information in order for you contact him only if you want to!…(The same invitation is also offered or extented to Alexander and Tony too!…

    …Yes, he do have “Walk Softly,Stranger” on his list, but your best “bet” is to let Alexander, record a copy of “Walk Softly,Stranger” for you
    on December 23, 2008.

    dcd ;)

  12. THANKS FOR THAT INFO DARK CITY DAME!!!!!

    Although we have Alexander as a back-up here, please send me the list to …….TheFountain26@aol.com…….I will check it out and may order this film immediately!!! I really want to see it ASAP……thanks again my dear friend………..Sam

  13. dark city dame, you have done the equivalent of flashing a huge, juicy steak in front of a pack of tigers.

    Send me the list!

    http://www.dalecoleman3@comcast.net

  14. Hi! Sam, Alexander and Tony…
    I just sended my very “nice” Canadian friend your request and now I am now waiting for his response!…once he response, hopefully, in the “affirmative” I will email you all the information.

    dcd ;)

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