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When his dog dies, apparently from being poisoned, the young son of the owner of a small, orange orchid in California, immediately suspects an unfriendly, mysterious stranger who has just moved into the area, who recently had a quarrel with the boy's father. The boy's suspicions grow and also influence other townspeople who begin to believe that the stranger may also be a wanted killer. Unwarranted assumptions and wild speculations lead to several problems before the truth is revealed. Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
Offbeat story elevated by John Alton's magical camerawork
An old dark house in a California orange-growing community gains a mysterious tenant, and, scared on Halloween, the kids take an instant dislike to him. When the mutt belonging to one of them, Bud (Billy Gray), is later found poisoned, Bud fixes on the strange neighbor as its killer. With a November freeze threatening the crop, already restive townsfolk start to gossip, egged on by the implacable Bud. His parents, George Murphy and Nancy (Reagan) Davis -- both actors to become major forces in California and national politics in the next decade -- find him careening out of control. The story starts out as a fairly routine thriller based on a courageous (for its time) caution against McCarthyist hysteria. But then it turns into something more complex and memorable. When Bud sets off to find incriminating evidence, the tone and the images grow more gothic and evocative. John Alton's superb cinematography conjures up masterful effects from the smoke rising from the smudge-pots, the twisted branches and dark foliage, and the beclouded moonlight. (There's much in this movie that steals the thunder from Charles Laughton's solo masterpiece, the 1955 Night of the Hunter). The script deserves credit, too, for resolutely retaining the young adolescent's point of view while never stooping to condescend.
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