By Richard Winters
My Rating: 6 out of 10
4-Word Review: Kid roams the countryside.
George Mellish (Edward Albert) is a 12-year-old boy who runs away from home after a particularly harsh beating at the hands of his foster parents. As he roams the Tennessee countryside he meets Dirty Jim (Henry Hull) an old man who takes him into his rundown home and fills his head with all sorts of stories about an eight foot ax-wielding man who kills people he deems to be foolish. After a bout of illness George runs away from Jim and late one night meets Milo (Anthony Perkins) a loner who carries an ax and acts strangely. Initially George thinks that he is ‘the fool killer’ Jim described, but the two soon become friends even though strange ax murders begin to occur everywhere they go.
Servando Gonzalez’s direction is excellent and the one thing that keeps this otherwise thin story intriguing. This was his only English language film and he uses a variety of different camera angles and editing styles to create a sort of hypnotic effect. The on-location shooting is vivid and their ability to recreate the look and feel of the late 1800’s is solid including having the characters occasionally speak with poor grammar, which helps with the authenticity.
The only thing about Gonzalez’s direction that I did not like is where they have a nighttime scene that was clearly filmed in the daytime, but done with a darkened lens to ‘fool’ the viewer into thinking it is night. This process has been done many times in the past, but it never works. Even with the dark lens the sky is too bright and you are unable to see any stars. I remember this done a few times on the old ‘Brady Bunch’ TV-show and I always found it disconcerting. The reason is usually because by law child performers are not allowed to work past a certain late hour, so if the script calls for a nighttime scene they try to compensate using this trick, but it always looks tacky. My solution would be to get the parent’s permission to allow the young performer to work late for one night or alter the script to have the scene done in the daytime.
Despite some good production values and an interesting narrative the story itself, based on a novel by Helen Eustis, is limp and doesn’t have enough action. The middle section, which features a lot of conversations between Milo and George, gets boring and the pace comes to a screeching halt. The George character also gets a bit annoying. I realize he is a young and the story takes place in a more innocent era, but the kid falls too easily for anything and everything he is told and seems to have no center, which eventually becomes off-putting.
For what it is worth Albert is good in the lead in what was his film debut and so is Perkins although with this he was risking getting typecast. I thought Henry Hull in one of his last roles was highly engaging and I also really liked Arnold Moss as a bombastic preacher giving a fiery sermon under a tent during a religious revival. Since the movie otherwise does not have much happening this scene tends to be pretty electrifying and vivid particularly the looks on the people’s faces as he preaches to them.
There is a sort-of surprise ending, but it is not that big of a deal and most viewers will probably see it coming long before it happens and they might also say to themselves ‘I sat through two hours of this just for that!’ as well. If the story had been a little richer with more twists or a subplot this might have been memorable, but as it is the final result is empty.
My Rating: 6 out of 10
Released: April 28, 1965
Runtime: 1Hour 39Minutes
Director: Servando Gonzalez
Studio: Allied Artists Pictures