Coming-of-age story about a bratty kid who takes an instant dislike to a strange new neighbor. The boy sets off on a campaign to smear his name and spread vicious rumors about him. His parents just can't handle the boy. But after the kid endangers all the crops in the valley by his vandalism of the neighbors oil tank, he comes to realize that people are not always what they appear to be. Written by
Rather surprising that the director here, David Bradley, would go on to make some notoriously awful films. There isn't quite enough to the story and the ending is a timid disappointment, but the film boasts some unusually powerful, even unforgettable imagery. The kind that, if you see this movie as a child, will probably stick with you for a lifetime.
Bradley does a wonderful job conveying a sense of how alien and intimidating the world must look through the eyes of a ten year old, especially when that ten year old ventures outside the safe, protected space that is his every day environment. (An environment that seems relatively harmless during the day but hostile and terrifying at night.)
What images. The boy's head framed against the backdrop of the huge, sinister house next door where the mysterious, ill-tempered man resides. The boy sprinting through a fog-enshrouded orchard toward a raised, judgmental camera. Hitch-hiking on the side of a lonely highway as headlights bear down. A motorcyclist appearing like a ghost. Getting a ride through the dark in the cold night air, the biker's affable ramblings distant, dream-like. A mesmerizing montage of the boy watching his dedicated dad scrambling to heat his orchards on a night when the temperature drops below freezing, lighting flame after flame after flame. A subtle, unsettling sequence set in an abandoned home on the ocean where a creepy older boy scares the living daylights out of him.
"Father Knows Best" brat Billy Gray plays the lonely boy and he is an odd, atypically intense child actor. At times he is effective, at others he is simply obnoxious. He is one moody little actor in a moody little film. He would probably even unnerve that red-headed demon from those unfortunate "Problem Child" movies. Nobody else in the cast makes much of an impression, though everyone is adequate. George Murphy is the decent dad. Nancy Davis (actually not a bad actress at all) is hardly on screen and when she is she's playing the least pregnant looking pregnant lady you'll ever see. Kurt Kasznar is the strange neighbor, though he's not as ghoulish or ghastly looking as you're supposed to think he is. The child actress who plays Gray's nemesis/sweetheart, a girl named Anna Glomb, looks remarkably like Denise Richards must have looked like at the same age.
A not-so-distant cousin of "To Kill A Mockingbird". Bradley was clearly a uniquely gifted film-maker, though this may be the only evidence of that talent. What happened?
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