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Never Take Candy From a Stranger (1960) ***
dir. Cyril Frankel
Starring: Gwen Watford, Patrick Allen, Felix Aylmer, Niall McGinnis, Bill Nagy, Michael Gwynn and Budd Knapp
Review By Greg Klymkiw
In the movies, Canada never gets a break. As noted in Pierre Berton's almost pathologically well-researched (and very funny) book "Hollywood's Canada", he outlines Canada's penchant for offering up its anus to any two-bit non-Canadian huckster in exchange for the equivalent of coloured beads. Berton's book reveals how the Canadian government gave away its aspirations to manufacture an indigenous film culture (save for National Film Board of Canada documentaries) with the promise from all the major studios in Hollywood that Canada would be featured prominently as a setting in Hollywood films to promote tourism to Canada.
Most of these movies were B-grade westerns that portrayed voyageurs as boozing lechers looking primarily for white women to rape (since they get "it" easily from Native women), peaceful Canadian Plains Indians as blood-thirsty psychos wildly attacking wagon trains, geographical locations completely unlike what they were in reality and pole-up-the-butt Mounties bent on "getting their man".
In his book, Berton details over 600 such films - merely the tip of the iceberg.
He even gives examples of how Hollywood got their fingers into the pie of Britain's indigenous film industry during the "quota quickie" period (where unscrupulous Brits generated micro-budgeted trash to appease the government quotas, yet still make money) by hiring a puppet Canadian to be the "producer", use Hollywood-based British talent - on and behind the camera - and then to collect the financing and profits. This was an especially easy way to exploit Britain as well as Canada since anything made in Canada, counted as British, since Canada was essentially a colony belonging to the monarchy.
Never Take Candy From a Stranger is a low-budget Hammer Film production from Britain. It's not a western, nor is it a British "quota quickie". It is, however, set in Canada, and made primarily to satisfy voracious drive-in movie theatres and grindhouses in the United States.
And while, as the film's narrator tells us, this story could be set anywhere, we will see the tawdry events unfold in Canada. And what, you ask, is the tawdry event?
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There are clearly a few facts about Canada askew here. An Eastern Canadian setting in the fiddle playing environs of the Maritimes would normally mean that the child molestation was being carried out by Roman Catholic priests upon young boys in orphanages, troubled-boys schools and the notorious residential schools. As well, none of the law enforcement people in the film appear to be the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but look a lot like sheriffs and state troopers from the good old Red, White and Blue below the 49th parallel.
No matter, Canada it is. Britain has always had a long history of misrepresenting their own colony in the Great White North. One of my favourites is Powell-Pressburger's The 49th Parallel which depicted Nazis entering Canada via U-Boat through Hudson's Bay, encountering a Quebecois fur trapper played by Laurence Olivier, dining in the swinging city of Winnipeg, hooking up with some Mennonites on the prairies, encountering a war-weary non-patriot played by Leslie Howard and finally, an American soldier played by the Canadian actor Raymond Massey.
But, I digress.
We open Never Take Candy From A Stranger with little Sally Carter (genuinely well acted by Gwen Watford) as she plays with a new chum. Sally is a new arrival to this Eastern Canadian enclave of perversion. The gentle rough-housing between the two girls leads to Sally losing 35¢ in the grass. She laments that this was to be her candy allowance for the week. Her all-knowing new friend helpfully offers to take her to a place where they can both get all the free candy they want. Lo and behold, just behind them is a creepy old mansion and from a top window we discover they are being spied on by a foul, dirty old man, Clarence Olderberry (Felix Aylmer).
Later that evening, Sally admits to her parents that she and her friend went to visit a kind old man for candy and stripped naked for him and did a little dance. Dad (Patrick Allen) is furious. He is the new principal of the school in this small town (though it looks reasonably urban) and he is a square-jawed type looking for justice. When he visits the local constabulary, he's told not to press charges since the old man really didn't "do anything" to the children.
They also mention that the old man is essentially the patriarch of the town - responsible for starting its chief industry. He's been a highly influential citizen and well respected. Besides, the sheriff/state-trooper/constable/RCMP-officer adds, Olderberry's son, Clarence Jr. (CANADIAN ACTOR Bill Nagy) will use all his power to make their lives miserable and defend his Dad which will end in complete acquittal for the disgusting, slavering old lecher who, as it turns out, has quite a long history of child molestation that's been hushed up.
Peter is even more intent than ever to press charges and go to trial. From there, we go to an extremely intense courtroom battle, followed by a beautifully directed sequence of nail-biting suspense.
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Cyril Frankel's direction is lean and mean. In addition to directing endless hours of British cop, crime and sci-fi TV series, he also delivered one of the most terrifying and sadly underrated Hammer Horror pictures of all time, The Witches (from Hammer Horror, 'natch) as well as The Trollenberg Terror, one of the trippiest genre-benders of the period. Never Take Candy From a Stranger barrels along with the force of a souped-up GTO engine and the suspense set piece at the end is worthy of J. Lee Thompson's school "chase" between Robert Mitchum's brutal rapist and Gregory Peck's daughter in Cape Fear.
Several twists and turns during this final sequence in Never Take Candy From a Stranger had me on the edge of my seat until the devastating resolution. Add to the stew some truly rich cinematography from the legendary Freddie (The Straight Story, The Elephant Man, his first Oscar win Sons and Lovers and his second Oscar win Glory) Francis and you have an intelligent, suspenseful, powerful and slam-bang little thriller.
On a side note, one of Canada's greatest stage, television and voice veterans, Budd Knapp, appears in a small supporting role. Mother England was always happy to toss colonial savages a few bones.
"Never Take Candy From a Stranger" is available on the great 3-disc DVD set entitled "Icons of Horror - Hammer Studios" from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.