Never Take Sweets from a Stranger (1960)


NEVER TAKE CANDY FROM A STRANGER (aka: Never Take Sweets from a Stranger)

(director: Cyril Frankel; screenwriters: from the play “The Pony Cart” by Roger Emerson Garis/John Hunter; cinematographer: Freddie Francis; editors: Alfred Cox/James Needs; music: Elisabeth Lutyens; cast: Gwen Watford (Sally Carter), Patrick Allen (Peter Carter), Felix Aylmer (Clarence Olderberry Sr.), Niall MacGinnis (Defense Counsel), Alison Leggatt (Martha, grandmother), Bill Nagy (Clarence Olderberry Jr), Bud Nash (Captain Hammond), Janina Faye (Jean Carter), Vera Cook (Mrs. Demarest), Robert Arden (Tom Demarest), Frances Green (Lucille Demarest), Gaylord Cavallaro (Neal Phillips); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Anthony Hinds/Michael Carreras; Columbia Pictures; 1960-UK)

“A first-rate serious crime drama by, of all people, the sleazy Hammer studio.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A first-rate serious crime drama by, of all people, the sleazy Hammer studio, known best for their cheapie and exploitation films. The well-told creepy film about an elderly sex pervert is directed by Cyril Frankel and is based on the play “The Pony Cart” by Roger Emerson Garis.

It’s set in the small Canadian town of Jamestown, where the Carters have recently moved from England. Peter (Patrick Allen) is the newly-appointed high school principal, just getting acquainted with the respected power brokers in town and kidded by them as being a foreigner. His 9-year-old daughter Jean (Janina Faye) is in the woods playing on the swings with her 11-year-old girlfriend Lucille Demarest, when she drops her purse containing money for candy. Lucille tells her not to worry about the lost change, she knows where to get plenty of candy for nothing and takes her to the nearby house of the town’s wealthiest citizen Clarence Olderberry Sr. (Felix Aylmer). The town’s founder and leading citizen, with a known history for harmlessly being fond of little girls, has been scoping the girls out from his bedroom window with binoculars. After welcoming them inside, gives them candy and gets them to dance naked in front of him while he masturbates. When during bedtime Jean tells this to her mother Sally (Gwen Watford) and grandmother Martha (Alison Leggatt), Peter ignores Martha’s cautionary warning to mull it over and think how it might effect his job before reporting it to the police. Captain Hammond warns Peter that the Olderberrys run this town and that their lawyer will crucify their daughter on the witness stand. Peter soon finds himself isolated in town, as Olderberry’s son, Clarence (Bill Nagy), who now runs the lumber mill in the prosperous town, declares war on Peter and even gets Lucille’s mill worker father to state his daughter didn’t see any of this as she is sent to live far away with relatives so as not to attend the trial. Through an unfair vigorous cross-examination by the defense counsel and a judiciary system not interested in getting at the truth, old man Olderberry is found not guilty and Jean is left psychologically damaged by the rough questions thrown at her by the unscrupulous attorney while the lame prosecutor offered no objections.

The defense discredited Jean’s story and made her seem like a misguided girl. No one in town came to the Carter’s defense and no one reported the truth that the old man was voluntarily institutionalized for the same sex problem before in a private sanitarium, conveniently funded by the Olderberry family, only to be released without the consent of the treating doctors. With the trial over, Peter hands in his resignation and plans to move to another Canadian town. If the film ended at that point, it would have told a convincing and heartfelt story and made its salient point about how the wheels of justice turn against helping the innocent. Instead the third act comes with some over baked melodramatics on desolate Moon Lake that didn’t entirely kill the film but took away a lot of its power with a contrived violent conclusion, which is meant to issue a warning that when dealing with such perverts you should never assume that they are not dangerous.

The serious nature of the film’s scary topic is deftly handled, and seems to be light years ahead of how the movies or the media dealt with such a controversial subject. It’s a solid film about a subject that is much in the news these days and it should have gotten a lot more attention; it has gone virtually unnoticed all these years, but maybe things will change with the release of the new DVD.