Friday, 18 November 2016

TALK ABOUT A STRANGER












d. David Bradley (1952)

An unexpectedly fantastic little film, barely an hour long, full of shadows and suspense and atmosphere, great noir-ish shots and good performances, including one from Nancy Davis, in the year that she married fading star and rising Republican Ronald Reagan.

When a young boy (Billy Gray, who is great) finds his beloved dog poisoned, he is sure that his new neighbour, a dark eyed, beetle browed man with a foreign accent who keeps himself to himself and doesn't like dogs, is responsible. Billy channels his rage and distress into investigating the mysterious man, turning the rest of the town against the new arrival in the process. In the end, his obsession almost causes a tragedy.

This film pushes all the right buttons: it spends almost half of its running time showing us how happy Billy and his scruffy little dog are together, and these scenes are so amusing and touching that when the dog is killed, we are almost as devastated as Billy. From here on, the film gathers momentum, driven by Billy who seethes with anger and fizzes with the injustice of it all. The adults he comes across (with the exception of his parents), eager for sensation, rather irresponsibly stoke up this fury and soon the town is gossiping about the new neighbour, dissecting everything from his grocery order to the cost of his watch to the stubbiness of his thumbs - 'oh, and did you know that he murdered Billy's dog?'. You know how these things go in small towns.

In the end, disaster is averted and a perfectly logical (if rather dark) answer is found. Billy calms down and, in the process, acquires not only a new dog but a new sister and a new girlfriend, so it's a happy ending of sorts, just not for the old dog.

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