ALL THE KIND STRANGERS *** USA 1974 Dir: Burt Kennedy. 75 mins
Made for Television movies were a new outlet during the seventies long before streaming services. In many ways, they were a throwback to early television that featured such ground break series as Hallmark Hall of fame, Philco Playhouse and the famous Playhouse 90. The difference was that these were live broadcasts in most cases and on limited sets. ALL THE KIND STRANGERS (1974) flows on the small screen as likely ‘movie of the week’.
The film opens with a black top highway and twangy acoustic music theme sung by then recording artist and ‘Teen idol’ Robbie Benson who also has a role. Stacy Keach plays photojournalist Jimmy Wheeler, on the road with his polaroid camera (Yes a polaroid land camera). Jimmy travels the countryside taking photos and writing stories about his picture, this time he ends into the woods of the rural south. A touch of potential “Southern Gothic’ enters as Wheeler meets a young boy, carrying groceries down a desolate dirt road, The two strike up a conversation resulting in Wheeler giving him a lift to his home deep in the wood, so deep they had to travel over riverbeds that ruin his new “seven thousand dollar” car. Wheeler meets a family, devoid of parents led by their oldest Peter (John Savage). The tone, manner and speech of the children is one of the 1970’s “Punk” belligerence. Wheeler asks where their parents are only to get the answer that they have died. He later finds a woman Carol Ann (Samantha Eggar) in the kitchen who prepares their meals. It turns out the children are wanting surrogate parents whom they select from passersby. The result is several disappearances of people and cars. Essentially the would-be parents are imprisoned on their farm and controlled with the ad of several guard dogs and weapons. Wheeler’s vehicle disappears the next morning so he is doomed. The film then becomes a cat and mouse or kid and mouse affair of Wheeler and Carol Ann trying to escape. They must escape for the family will vote either to keep them or kill them.
The film looks like a seventies film today due to the difference in film stock for the time and the wideness of the frame. The film was directed well by Burt Kennedy who is a veteran Hollywood Director and scriptwriter of mostly westerns and many television series.
This is not a horror film but more treatment of Southern Gothic theme and what would later morph into Folk Horror with a North American touch such as Children of the Corn and others like it in a rural setting. The cast does well, and the children work their lines well and all look like a family if not a slightly disjointed one. The actors try to give each other a different personality from the happy one, the sullen to the wanton. The setting is well used as you can practically smell the mud on the shores. Director Burt Kennedy uses the river when the children take Wheeler out in a risky only skiff to see the glinting metal of his car at the bottom of the river. The ending is predictable and rather yet sad in a way similar to Captain Kirk’s last line in the classic Star Trek series episode “Who Mourns For Adonais?” After defeating Apollo, Kirk mutters to Dr. McCoy “Would it have hurt us, I wonder, just to have gathered a few laurel leaves.”
All THE KIND STRANGERS (1974) has some effective chase moments in the nocturnal walk in the wood punctuated by howling dogs. Even if the dogs look like house pets. See this for Stacy Keach who is a solid leading man and he gets befuddled by the children as he tries to make sense of the problems even if it costs him in his own words his “sixty dollar shoes”.
Review by Terry Sherwood