Rachel and the Stranger: Romantic Triangle in Colonial America Starring Loretta Young

Modest to a fault, Rachel and the Stranger was RKO’s most commercially successful film in 1948, largely due to its star power: Holden, Mitchum, and Loretta Young.

Based on the Howard Fast’s short story “Rachel,” this black and white Western, directed by Norman Foster, and set in colonial America, revolves around a romantic triangle.

William Holden plays David Harvey, a recent widower living in the wilderness, who thinks his young boy Davey (Gary Gray) needs a woman to help raise him. At the nearest settlement, he consults Parson Jackson (Tom Tully) and buys the contract of an indentured servant, Rachel (Loretta Young).

The marriage is nominal, as Rachel serves more as a servant than a wife. Meanwhile Davey resents the attempt to replace his dead mother Susan.

Enters Jim Fairways (Robert Mitchum), a family friend and former suitor of Susan’s), who falls in love with Rachel. When he offers to buy her, David gets jealous and decides to fight in order to keep her.

After Mitchum was arrested for possessing marijuana, RKO rushed to release the film to take advantage of the scandalous news.

The film is directed in functional but impersonal mode, but the stars are appealing.  Loretta Young was at the peak of her popularity after winning the Best Actress Oscar for The Farmer’s Daughter, and so was Mitchum, having appeared in some great film noir.

As for Holden, two years later, he would become a major star, appearing in two classics in 1950, Sunset Boulevard and Born Yesterday.