I'm not usually a big fan of Westerns, but since I do like both William Holden and Robert Mitchum, I decided to give Rachel and the Stranger a chance.
Holden plays David Harvey, a widower so worried about his young son growing up wild and woodsy without a woman around that he heads into town one day determined to return with one. What he gets (for a price) is the bondswoman Rachel (Loretta Young). Since it wouldn't be decent for them to live together unmarried, he weds her, although it soon becomes clear that she will be treated more as a servant than a wife.
Rachel is eager to please, anxious to find out and fulfill what is expected of her. She becomes determined to learn how to shoot, hoping that by doing so she will win over her stepson, and, through him, her husband. Despite her efforts, she is pretty much ignored.
That all changes when Mitchum's character, Jim Fairways, shows up for a visit. He's a wandering hunter and an old friend of the family. In fact, he was a rival for the affections of Big Davey's first wife, and history soon repeats itself as Fairways takes a liking to Rachel. Fairways expresses his intention to get a wife of his own and heads off to town for this purpose. During a strangely sunny evening scene, the now jealous Big Davey begins to show more interest in Rachel, although he tells her that he is not ready to fall in love again.
Fairways soon returns, sans wife, and during an extended stay with the family he shows himself very attentive to Rachel. He soon offers to buy her from Davey so he can marry her himself. Although Rachel had seemed to enjoy the attention from Fairways (he kindly treated her like a person by talking with her, playing music with her, and teaching her how to shoot properly) she now turns on Fairways and calls him lazy.
While the two men fight over her, a disgusted Rachel runs off, and soon the men are on her trail. Even though the trip to town and back was made easily in a day before, everyone ends up camping out that night and the two men have a chance to express how they feel. Fairways professes his love while Big Davey is only able to appeal for Rachel to return to keep Little Davey and the dogs from missing her.
Soon all this nonsense is forgotten as a fire is spotted and the men head back to the cabin to protect it from an Indian attack. While Little Davey heads off to get the help of the townsfolk, Rachel bravely (and rather foolishly) returns to help fight off the Indians. Although unable to save the cabin from being set on fire, the three members of the love triangle live through the night unharmed. In the morning, Fairways the lonely wanderer heads off again, but not before delivering a creepy line about how he's a hunter putting the meat on other men's tables. Rachel remains with her husband and stepson, and Big Davey refers to her as Little Davey's Ma, providing hope for her being treated as a real wife now.
The movie was fairly enjoyable overall, with good acting and nice singing by Robert Mitchum. I didn't like some of the underlying ideas of men being driven to love by jealousy and women having to choose between romance and security. Fans of the actors would probably enjoy watching Rachel and the Stranger, but as the story is somewhat lacking in depth and emotional payoff, I would definitely categorize this film as a lesser classic as opposed to a must-see movie.
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