I didn't know going into 1950's Stars in My Crown that Joe David Brown, who wrote the novel it's based on, also penned the source novel for Paper Moon, but in retrospect it makes a lot of sense. Both films deal with religious themes and revolve around an orphan who forges a familial bond with their guardian(s). The difference is the parents in Stars in My Crown -- plainspoken pastor Josiah Gray (Joel McCrea) and his wife Harriet (Ellen Drew), who's also the organist at his church -- eagerly welcome young John (Dean Stockwell) into their lives. And since the film is narrated by John as an adult, the viewer has no doubt he'll recover from his bout with typhoid fever, which he comes down with before anyone else in town.
The "slow fever" outbreak is one of several subplots woven throughout the narrative. Others include Josiah's repeated attempts to get an old war buddy (Alan Hale) to come to church (that would be the Civil War, by the way, which the story is set not long after) and his ideological sparring sessions with the new town doctor (James Mitchell), whose gruff demeanor makes him an unlikely successor to his ailing father (Lewis Stone). The thread director Jacques Tourneur uses as a linchpin, though, is the lopsided conflict between elderly black farmer Uncle Famous (Juano Hernandez) and unscrupulous general store owner Lon Backett (Ed Begley), who wants his land and tries every underhanded method he can think of to get it. Backett even stoops to forming a Klan-like organization called "The Night Riders" and threatening to string Uncle Famous up, but Josiah manages to peaceably defuse the situation and shows the masked men how shortsighted they've been. If only their modern-day equivalents could be as easily cowed into behaving like decent human beings.