Synopsis by Hal Erickson
Ace cinematographer Karl Brown was the producer, director, writer and chief cameraman of the pioneering "actuality" drama Stark Love. Set in the mountains of North Carolina, the story details the relationship between Rob Warwick (Forrest James), a hill boy who's learned to read, and Barbara Allen (Helen Munday), an impressionable neighbor girl. Fascinated with the notion of escaping his rustic environs and sampling the Outside World, Rob convinces Barbara to go along with him. When the circuit preacher arrives for his yearly visit, Rob begs the man to take him out of the hills. The boy then sells all his worldly possessions so as to finance a proper school education for himself -- but not, alas, for Barbara. While Rob is away at school, Barbara stays behind to tend to the needs of Rob's widowed father Jason (Silas Miracle). The old man is so impressed by the girl's industriousness that he marries Barbara himself -- and when Rob returns, he discovers to his chagrin that his sweetheart is now his stepmother. Father and son immediately start quarrelling, and a violent fistfight breaks out. It is up to Barbara to put an end to the fight, but not before a raging flood threatens to kill all three of the protagonists. This being his first directorial effort, Karl Brown wanted to make the film as authentic as possible; to that end, he filmed the picture entirely on location, using non-professional "locals" in the major roles. With the help of ex-Army officer Paul Wing, Brown combed the Great Smoky Mountains to find the most suitable locations and actors. Though many of the mountaineers were averse to being photographed, the director was able to find two "naturals" for his leading players: Forrest James, a genuine "hillbilly" whom he spotted in a Knoxville restaurant, and Helen Munday, a 16-year-old high schooler who "went Hollywood" to such an extent that Brown later characterized her as the most difficult performer he'd ever worked with. Described by its director as "a maverick in design, conception and execution", Stark Love had to be heavily censored before Paramount agreed to release it; the studio also insisted upon the film's "thrill" ending, which Brown filmed under protest. Though Stark Love did not do well financially, Karl Brown never expressed any regrets, beyond his wish that he could have made the picture with sound so as to capture the characters' authentic hill-country accents.
education, family-feud, father, illiteracy, love-triangle, marriage, minister, son, stepmother, widow/widower