The television movie, “All the Kind Strangers,” begins with a man riding in a two door, Chevrolet Caprice convertible, as mawkish music plays. The man is photojournalist, Jimmy Wheeler, portrayed by Golden Globe winner Stacy Keach (Hemingway). He’s been traveling throughout America, taking pictures and writing stories to accompany them. From the look of his car, and some of the comments he makes during the movie, he’s doing well for himself, financially. While driving, Wheeler spots a young boy. He’s walking along the side of the road, and carrying a bag of groceries. Wheeler pulls up alongside the boy, and asks him some questions. He wants to determine how far the boy has to walk. Once Wheeler learns the boy has another mile to go, he offers him a ride. As the two talk, Wheeler learns the boy’s name is Gilbert (Tim Parkison). A viewer can tell from some of his commentary, that Wheeler perhaps regrets giving Gilbert a ride. Once Wheeler turns right off of the main road to head toward Gilbert’s house, Wheeler’s car is subjected to some unpaved, backwoods terrain.
Wheeler arrives at Gilbert’s house. The boy lives there with his siblings. According to Gilbert, the children’s mother has died, and their father is away on business. Peter, played by John Savage (A Medicine for the Mind), is the oldest of the siblings, and he is seemingly in charge. Martha (Arlene Farber) is the next oldest, but is mute. Wheeler also meets Rita (Patti Parkinson), Baby (John Connell), James (Brent Campbell), and John, a role acted by Grammy and two time Golden Globe nominee Robby Benson (Two of a Kind).
Peter invites Wheeler to stay for dinner. Wheeler is appreciative of the invite, but states that he really needs to get going. He asks Peter if he can show him how to get back onto the highway. Peter gives him the directions, but when Wheeler attempts to start his car, it stalls. Wheeler is forced to spend the night, because there is no phone in the house, and it is getting dark. Wheeler would have to walk to the nearest town, miles away, in order to get a tow truck.
Wheeler begins to suspect things are not as they should be, especially when the siblings tell Wheeler to join the children’s mother in the kitchen. The same mother who according to Gilbert, is deceased. Once inside, the door is locked behind him, Wheeler meets Carol Ann, played by Oscar nominee, and Golden Globe winner Samantha Eggar (The Collector). She does not bear any resemblance whatsoever to any of the children. It doesn’t take long, thanks to a one word message written by Carol Ann in baking flour, for Wheeler to know he has made a mistake giving Gilbert a ride. Wheeler’s life will depend on his attitude, as it pertains to him going along with what the children want from him. If he doesn’t acquiesce to their wants, Wheeler might be one of several people, who out of an act of kindness, found themselves inside of the same house, and in trouble.
What is it that the children want from Wheeler? Who is Carol Ann? If she’s not the children’s mother, or a family member, why is she there? Are the children on their own? Is their father really away, or has he passed on as well? All of those questions will be answered by the conclusion of the television movie.
“All the Kind Strangers” was directed by Burt Kennedy (Support Your Local Sheriff). The teleplay was written by Clyde Ware (Gunsmoke). The movie was broadcast on ABC (American Broadcasting Company) on November 12, 1974. Parts horror and thriller, the movie has a runtime of 73 minutes.
The cast as a whole were competent. Keach and Eggars did their best to elevate the material. The child actors played well off of one another. For a movie that is part of the horror and thriller genres, however, there isn’t much in the way of scares. The movie’s greatest strength is in the situation it sets up for Keach and Eggars characters. From a psychological standpoint the movie should get most viewers to think: What would I do if I found myself in a similar situation? I had heard about the movie for a long time, but up until recently never got a chance to see it. As of the writing of this post, the film can be streamed on Amazon. Overall, a passable movie, good, at least it was for me, for a one time watch.