A very fine Western that seems to have flown "under the radar" of most fans of the genre, The Tall Stranger is worth seeking out. In terms of basics, it's fairly standard: a stranger is placed in the midst of people with whom he has a fundamental difference and proves his mettle by his ability to rise to any and all challenges. But Christopher Knopf has taken this typical setting and given it a taut, terse screenplay that still manages to put more meat on the story and to the characters than would be expected. He puts in some touches that simply shouldn't work, but which surprisingly do, often beautifully. Chief among these is the film's emotional highpoint, when the bad guy landowner crumbles at the innocence of a child's heartfelt question. It's manipulative and shouldn't score -- but it does, thanks to a combination of Knopf's delicate set-up, Thomas Carr's skillful direction and the fine playing of Barry Kelley and Philip Phillips. Stranger also benefits from another of Joel McCrea's under-rated Western hero turns, strong and simple but enormously effective, and from Virginia Mayo's crystal clear beauty, as well as an adept supporting cast. It's also notable that Stranger pushes the envelope a little for the period, with a bit more grit and some acknowledgement of "shady" pasts among certain characters.
by Craig Butler review