The Stranger’s Return (1933)

One of King Vidor’s least known movies, this tale of passion on an upstate New York farm avoids all the pitfalls usually associated with rural drama. With Miriam Hopkins as a recently divorced city girl visiting the family home to find her roots, it’s far from sentimental. Her city girl is too sophisticated and independent to allow much of that, even when she falls for married neighbor Franchot Tone. Beulah Bondi drips acid as a malicious relative afraid Hopkins will keep her from inheriting the estate. Lionel Barrymore, as the family patriarch who quickly bonds with the granddaughter he’s never met, pulls off his role without a touch of easy sentiment or bluster, turning his jousting with Bondi and his other greedy offspring into a kind of heartland Volpone. Vidor got the best out of his cast while also using the film to capture an authentic sense of rural life, making the location shots resemble the work of Grant Wood (American Gothic) as a kind of dress rehearsal for his next project, Our Daily Bread (1934).

Dir. King Vidor