Appellate Judge Tom Becker once made the mistake of taking a Jell-O shot from a stranger; the less said, the better.
Our review of Hammer Films: The Icons Of Suspense Collection, published April 6th, 2010, is also available.
…and then he made us play that silly game…
The Carters have just moved to the small Canadian town where Peter (Patrick Allen, The Wild Geese) is about to take his position as principal of the local high school. He and his wife, Sally (Gwen Watford, The Ghoul), and her mother (Alison Leggatt, Far From the Madding Crowd) live in a nice little house where they dote upon their daughter, 9-year-old Jean (Janina Faye, Horror of Dracula).
The night Peter and Sally arrive home from a welcoming affair given by the town, Jean tells them something shocking: She and her friend, Lucille (Frances Green), had been out playing when they decided they wanted some candy. Lucille suggested they go to the house of a nice, old man, who would give them candy if they did what he wanted. What he wanted was for them to dance naked for him.
Jean doesn't seem too concerned, but her parents and grandmother are horrified. Sally wants to go straight to the police, but her mother advises caution; Peter seems torn between a quick reaction and waiting until things settle.
Significantly complicating matters: the old man in question is Clarence Olderberry, Sr. (Felix Aylmer, Olivier's Hamlet). The Olderberry's aren't just the proverbial richest family in town, they essentially built the town, starting with Clarence Sr. opening a saw mill decades before. People in this insular community just don't cross the Olderberry family, and they tend not to support the few who do for fear of reprisal.
The family of Jean's friend Lucille decide to let it go, sending their daughter away until everything has blown over. But the Carters—already disadvantaged by being newcomers—press charges, ignoring the warnings of just about everyone, including Olderberry Sr.'s son, that taking this action can destroy them.
Never Take Candy From a Stranger was strong stuff in 1960—so strong, in fact, that found no audience, and reviewers, put off by the subject matter, dismissed it. I know I had read about it before I saw it, and I know I'd seen it before this viewing, though where and when, I cannot say (Netflix, maybe?). It's a film that has grown in reputation over the past 50 years, noted for its sensitive yet uncompromising handling of a subject rarely addressed in features until fairly recently (and even then, often with a distasteful level of exploitation).
Produced by Hammer, before they went full-bore monster, the film is decidedly low-key and low-budget—watching it now, you'd be forgiven for thinking it's an episode from a TV drama. But the lack of melodrama adds to its strength; Never Take Candy From a Stranger is a film about a devastating crime with deep emotional implications told from a place of reason. The heroes and villains are, for the most part, not as explicitly defined as you might expect.
It's powerful stuff, particularly a courtroom scene in which young Jean is put through the wringer by Olderberry's lawyer while the towns people look on—not horrified that this child is being legally bullied by an adult, but smugly assured that the interlopers are getting their comeuppance. There is horror here, but not by movie monsters or beasties; the horror comes straight from the hearts of those who strike out at having their beliefs challenged, who look the other way when wrongdoing occurs (it's suggested several time that this isn't Olderberry's first time acting like this), and who find strength in a mob. Modest though the film might be, it is ultimately harrowing and stays with you long after the end credits have rolled.
This edition of Never Take Candy From a Stranger is manufactured on demand. I've seen some very well-made on-demand titles; this isn't one of them. There are no menu screen, subtitles, set-up options, or supplements of any kind; the picture just starts, and the full-frame image is less-than arresting. I wonder why they didn't just pull the OAR image and trailer from 2010's Hammer Films: The Icons of Suspense Collection, which featured a six-pack of decidedly un-Hammer Hammer films.
A strong, sobering film, one that might have been "groundbreaking" had it not been dismissed, Never Take Candy From a Stranger deserves to find an audience. The disc loses points for its tech and lack of supplements, but the film is highly recommended.
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