Stars in My Crown (1950): Jacques (Out of the Past) Tourneur’s Superb Western, Starring Joel McCrea at his Best (Race, Black, Lynch)

From the Vaults

Jacques Tourneur, perhaps better known for his noir and horror films, directed Stars in My Crown, a superb interracial Western starring Joel McCrea in an impeccable performance as a preacher whose faith tames an unruly town by inspiring the townspeople to change.

Grade: A- (**** out of *****)

Stars In My Crown
Stars in My Crown (1949 poster).jpg

Theatrical release poster

It was based on the 1947 novel of the same name by Joe David Brown.

The story is narrated by Marshall Thompson, as an adult John.

Shortly after the American Civil War, preacher Josiah Gray (McCrea) arrives in the town of Walesburg. He heads straight for the saloon to give his first sermon. When the patrons laugh at him, he pulls out two guns, cowing the men into listening.

Settling down, Josiah becomes well-respected member of the community, which then builds a church. He marries Harriet (Ellen Drew) and raises her orphan nephew John (Dean Stockwell).

When the beloved Dr. Harris, Sr. (Lewis Stone) dies, his place is taken by his son (James Mitchell), but the younger unreligious man wants to leave Walesburg. He falls in love with schoolteacher Faith Samuels (Amanda Blake), bust she is reluctant to marry him as he insists on moving away.

Dr. Harris, Jr. warns Josiah to stay away from others, to avoid spreading the disease, but Josiah ignores him and soon, others are stricken, including Faith. When Harris blames Josiah, his faith is shaken; he closes the church and withdraws from the community. John recovers and discovers the cause was tainted well water. Harris’s work on behalf of his patients forges a bond between him and Walesburg. When it seems Faith is dying, Harris summons the preacher. Josiah’s prayers are answered; Faith recovers, and the man of science and the man of faith are reconciled.

Lead businessman Lon Backett (Ed Begley) wants to buy the land of freed slave Uncle Famous Prill (Juano Hernandez). He needs the mica deposit to keep his mine in operation, but Uncle Famous refuses to sell. The out-of-work miners trample the old man’s crops and scatter his livestock, yet he stubbornly holds out.

Josiah declines the armed assistance of old war buddy, Jed Isbell (Alan Hale), and his sons (including an uncredited James Arness), and waits with Uncle Famous for the lynch mob to show up in Ku Klux Klan attire.

Josiah asks the mob to listen to him read Uncle Famous’s will. With each item, he reminds the beneficiary of the old man’s past kindness to that individual. Shamed, the mob disperses.

John picks up the pages Josiah had read and, seeing nothing written on them, says it’s not a will. Josiah replies, “It’s the will of God.”

The versatile McCrea renders a multimanned performance, excelling in each situation, whether he prays at the bedside of a dying person or brandishing his two guns in a saloon to command attention while he reads from the Bible.

The film also offers the underestimated Ellen Drew one of her strongest roles, as his wife.

Well received by critics, the film was popular, earning $1,962,000 in the US and $184,000 overseas, resulting in profit of $225,000.

Stars In My Crown was remastered on DVD in September 2018.

Cast
Joel McCrea as Josiah Doziah Gray
Ellen Drew as Harriet Gray
Dean Stockwell as John Kenyon
Juano Hernandez as Uncle Famous Prill
Alan Hale, Sr. as Jed Isbell
Lewis Stone as Dr. Daniel Kalbert Harris, Sr.
James Mitchell as Dr. Daniel Kalbert Harris, Jr.
Amanda Blake as Faith Radmore Samuels.
Charles Kemper as Professor Sam Houston Jones, a good-natured medicine show huckster
Connie Gilchrist as Sarah Isbell
Ed Begley as Lon Backett
Jack Lambert as Perry Lokey
Arthur Hunnicutt as Chloroform Wiggins
Philo McCullough as Townsman (uncredited)

Credits:

Directed by Jacques Tourneur
Screenplay by Margaret Fitts, based on Stars in My Crown
1947 novel by Joe David Brown
Produced by William H. Wright
Narrated by Marshall Thompson
Cinematography Charles Schoenbaum (black and white)
Edited by Gene Ruggiero
Music by Adolph Deutsch
Distributed by MGM

Release date: May 11, 1950

Running time: 89 minutes
Budget $1,175,000
Box office $2,146,000

Note:

I am grateful to TCM for showing the movie on July 12, 2022.