3 stars   

directed by: Darrin McGavin
starring: Patricia Neal, Cloris Leachman, Bobby Darin, Tessa Dahl, Ron Howard, Kathie Browne, Joseph Mascolo, Simon Oakland, Thayer David, Gale Garnett, Ron Applegate, Jan Chamberlain, Gerald E. Forbes, Clarence Greene Jeans, Orest Ulan

(back of video blurb):

"In this psycho-thriller, a small fishing town becomes entangled in the grip of terror as its people begin to mysteriously disappear! Patricia Neal stars as the over-protective mother who is trying to shield her disturbed daughter from reality and the shocking truth about her father's death. Ron Howard portrays a young man returns to the eerie town in search of the mother who had once abandoned him. He not only digs up the skeletons of the past but corpses as well! The suspense mounts as the town's deep, dark secrets begin to surface and it discovers the horrible fate of its missing citizens. Run Stranger, Run is a frightening tale of evil doings and the chilling past that turns a once peaceful town into a dwelling place for death!"

choice dialogue:

"We all have secrets. We learn to live with them, and other people's too."

The Sheriff has a few words of wisdom for young Johnny

slash with panache?

[review by Justin Kerswell]

RUN STRANGER RUN (theatrically known as HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY, LOVE GEORGE) is a quirky early 70's psycho-drama, with perhaps a bit too much drama and too little psycho.

S stranger in town ...

Johnny Hanson (Ron Howard, who soon went on to fame later in the 70's as Richie Cunningham in in the TV 50's retro show HAPPY DAYS, and subsequently became a successful Hollywood director) turns up in a small Novia Scotia fishing town during one particularly cold Autumn morning. More of a cypher than anything he watches the local inhabitants go about their daily business with a cool impassiveness. His mission, seemingly, is to track down his Mother and Father, who gave him away at birth. He visits the local diner where his mother Rhodha works (Cloris Leachman); she recognises him immediately, but neither of them let on. She later confides in her live-in lover, Eddie (former teen idol Bobby Darin, in his last role). Johnny also makes a point of hanging out and spying on the household of Rhodha's eccentric, irascible sister, Cara (Patricia Neal), who shares her house with her son Porgie (Ron Applegate) and his trashy wife Yolanda (Gale Garnett) (who Carla snaps at constantly, spitting out such acid-bon-bons as, "Don't call me Mother, you lazy fart!"). Also living in the house is Cara's strange, child-like daughter, Celia (Tessa Dahl, the real life daughter of Neal and author Roald Dahl, and Mother of the famous English model Sophie Dahl); who seemingly takes pity on the similarly aged Johnny and hides him away in the house. However, he slips away and the local Sheriff, (Simon Oakland) picks him up and questions him as to why he's hanging around; telling him that there has been a rash of unexplained disappearances of local men recently. Ready to throw him out of town his position softens when he begins to believe his real motivation: to find out the identity of his Father, now that he knows who his Mother is.

Digging in the past can have grave consquences!

It is against this background that Johnny's search begins to scratch at the scab of the townsfolk's respectability, perhaps finding out more than he wanted to know. His search accelerates the rash of murders as unbalanced minds become even more unhinged and more and more bodies begin to pile up.

A sense of small town Americana and squirming unease is beautifully evoked in RUN STRANGER RUN; of townsfolk nervous but not yet tipped over into full scale panic. Dirty secrets hide in every shadow, and just like the skeletons lying just below the surface beneath the local beach, are within a hairs-breath of being revealed.

The film's character's are all slightly odd-ball, lending the film a sense of unpredictability. The veteran actresses who play the estranged sisters with a dark link in their past stand out, as does Dahl, whose character veers between little girl playfulness and unbridled lavaciousness (she can't resist spying on her next door neighbour having sex with his mistress) and tries to seduce an appalled Johnny.

Murder in mind!

The film works very well as a melodrama but falls down somewhat as a psycho-thriller. There are no on-screen murders (although there are some relatively gory shots of the aftermath) and the horror/thriller aspects generally take a back seat to the character and plot development before the typically Gothic and Grand Guginol denouement. However, there are some stand out scenes, most noticeably when one character enters a derelict Summer house looking for her beau, only to find his body still twitching, lying in a ram-shackle room with a bubbling neck wound. In an effort to escape she stumble across the killer, standing there clutching a bloody meat cleaver to their chest. Chillingly, the killer's face is a complete blank, not even showing any sign that the woman is stood right there.

The film ends with no one finding redemption and those still alive as lost as they were at the beginning of the film, perhaps even more so. Not a bundle of laughs, obviously, but worth a look to see some fine acting and to marvel at just how unpredictable and non-formulaic American thrillers once could be.

6   bodycount!   female:2 / male:4

       1) Skeletal remains seen sticking through sand
       2) Male found dead in the water
       3) Male found with throat cut
       4) Male found dead in bath tub
       5) Female falls to her death
       6) Female found with knife stuck in her neck