Stars in My Crown (1950)

Stars in My Crown (1950)

“What you want is your town back again.”

When a young preacher (Joel McCrea) arrives in a small southern town just after the end of the Civil War, he marries a local woman (Ellen Drew) and becomes an adoptive father to Drew’s orphaned nephew John (Dean Stockwell). As an adult (Marshall Thompson), John narrates various tales from his childhood — including a racist landowner (Ed Begley) trying to force a Black farmer (Juano Hernandez) to sell his land; a young doctor (James Mitchell) romancing the local schoolteacher (Amanda Blake) while taking over the practice of his dying father (Lewis Stone); a traveling magician (Charles Kemper) arriving to give a performance; and a fatal outbreak of typhoid.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Alan Hale Films
  • Dean Stockwell Films
  • Doctors and Nurses
  • Jacques Tourneur Films
  • Joel McCrea Films
  • Juano Hernandez Films
  • Lewis Stone Films
  • Priests and Ministers
  • Racism and Race Relations
  • Small Town America
  • Westerns

Jacques Tourneur directed a handful of westerns in his varied career — including Canyon Passage (1946), Wichita (1955), Stranger on Horseback (1955), Great Day in the Morning (1956), and this lyrical adaptation of an autobiographical novel by Joe David Brown. The storyline meanders through a young boy’s memories of his uncle’s near-miraculous impact on locals — to an extent that whitewashes and smooths over highly complex topics (i.e., deeply entrenched racism), but perhaps can be excused as part of a child’s idealized sense-making. McCrea is well-cast in the central role as Preacher Josiah Doziah Gray:

… a man so convinced of the goodness and rightness of Christian values that he attempts to persuade all townsfolk — including a former war buddy (Alan Hale) and his bustling family — to come to services regularly:

The most disturbing (and problematic) aspect of the film by far is the recurring subplot about Hernandez standing firm in his rejection of an offer to buy his land. He doesn’t back down from vile Begley and his henchmen, but must continually kowtow to local whites, and nearly sacrifices his life to murderous Klansmen for his principles:

… until:


… McCrea saves the day in a seriously unrealistic sequence that many have taken issue with. Indeed, those who rankle at seeing tales of “white saviors” should be forewarned that this is very much a story along the lines of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962); viewers wanting to see Hernandez standing up more forcefully for himself in the face of racism should check out Intruder in the Dust (1949). Meanwhile, the film’s other significant subplot — about the sudden emergence and transmission of typhoid among the town’s children — is a scary reminder about our human vulnerabilities, one that hits all too close to home these days.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Joel McCrea as Josiah Gray
  • Strong performances by the supporting cast

  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a fine (if somewhat troubling) feel-good film by a master director. Listed as a Sleeper and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Good Show
  • Important Director


One thought on “Stars in My Crown (1950)

  1. Must-see, as a somewhat-undiscovered gem. As per my first-viewing (11/3/18) post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “…But the minute I saw the parson, I knew that mama was wrong.”

    ‘Stars In My Crown’ (1950): This is not the kind of film one would expect from the director of ‘Cat People’, ‘I Walked with a Zombie’, ‘Out of the Past’ and ‘Berlin Express’. And yet it should be, since it is a prime example of Jacques Tourneur’s versatility and his ease with a wide variety of genres. ‘Stars…’ comes from a novel by Joe David Brown, who years later wrote ‘Addie Pray’ (the basis of ‘Paper Moon’ – and if you’ve never read the novel, *do*; it has a whole 3rd section that is tremendous and totally absent from the excellent Bogdanovich film). But this earlier work is the autobiographical story of Brown’s experiences with his minister grandfather – a figure here incarnated by Joel McCrea (who called this his favorite film and he’s terrific in it). The episodic, small-town story plays out, in tone, like ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ – it’s even narrated in a similar way and also deals (in part) with the KKK. Overall, it’s a gentle tale (its drama notwithstanding) and something of an unsung but very worthy film. Also with: Dean Stockwell (in one of his many ‘natural kid’ roles), Alan Hale, Ed Begley, Juano Hernandez, Connie Gilchrist, James Mitchell & Gunsmoke’s Amanda Blake and James Arness (who, one year later, would terrorize as ‘The Thing from Another World’).

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