After a Catholic orphanage in Quebec burns down nuns find the last missing child, poor traumatized little Patsy (Donna Corcoran), alone in the woods, crying. She admits starting the fire by accident. Kindly Sister Josephine (Agnes Moorehead) comforts the orphan girl as best she can but mean boys led by bully Edward (Tony Taylor) fuel Patsy's guilt. When a train transporting the orphans stops in Scourie, a town in Protestant Ottowa, the nuns find plenty of sympathy but none willing to adopt children of a different faith. Yet big-hearted Victoria McChesney (Greer Garson) takes an instant liking to Patsy. To the child's delight she volunteers to become her new mother, despite the reservations of her stuffy protestant husband Patrick (Walter Pidgeon). Unfortunately Victoria's act of kindness causes problems for Patrick's political candidacy for parliament in Ottowa and serves to alienate them both from the residents of Scourie.
M-G-M first paired Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon together in Blossoms in the Dust (1941). This led to another seven films for the screen duo, most famously beloved wartime drama Mrs. Minniver (1942), the last of which was Scandal at Scourie. Directed by neglected auteur Jean Negulescu, the same year he made his star-studded take on Titanic and classic Marilyn Monroe-led comedy How to Marry a Millionaire for Twentieth Century Fox, and filmed on location in Canada, it is a slight and cosy family drama seeped in M-G-M's trademark lush chocolate box visuals. Which is not to say that the story does not have darker undercurrents, dealing as it does with religious prejudice, small-town politics and the fragile psychology of a neglected child.
Even so as scandals go the conflict that unfolds is pretty tepid and, to modern eyes, faintly ridiculous. Stirred to apoplexy by the arrival of a Catholic in his staunchly protestant household, Pidgeon's pompous albeit fundamentally decent stuffed shirt shopkeeper-turned-political candidate balks at his wife serving fish on Friday and taking to Sunday mass. Matters escalate however once his political rival, newspaper editor Belney (Philip Ober) learns the McChesneys have let a Catholic pyromaniac loose in town. Not helping matters is a twist of fate that sees the one other kid adopted from Patsy's orphanage turn out to be her freckle-faced nemesis Edward. Before long the whole town turns on the meek little orphan girl in a manner that, no matter how slathered in M-G-M gloss, proves disturbing.
Adapted from a short story ('Good Boy' by Mary McSherry) published in Good Housekeeping magazine, the plot has tension to counterbalance the saccharine small town antics. Yet for the most part Negulescu and screenwriters Norman Corwin, Leonard Spigelglass and Karl Tunberg keep the interesting stuff bubbling under the surface with the focus squarely on Garson and Pidgeon's cosy domestic banter. Of course Garson is luminous, portraying possibly the world's nicest woman, and her pairing with Pigeon remains engaging as ever. Yet their twee antics stomp all over a potentially much more interesting examination of a troubled misfit child struggling not only to find acceptance but love herself, and wastes a pleasingly earnest performance from wide-eyed little Donna Corcoran. It is worth noting that, despite the smallest amount of screen time, Agnes Moorehead almost steals the movie with a glowing turn. Ultimately Scandal at Scourie is slight, yet for those of a receptive mindset, intermittently heartwarming M-G-M family fare.