CAROL LYNLEY GOES PSYCHO
During the mid to late Sixties, a number of young actors tried to shake their squeaky clean screen personas or stretch their acting chops by playing psychopatic killers ala Tony Perkins in Psycho. But for every success such as Tuesday Weld as a murderous high schooler in Pretty Poison, there were more less successful attempts such as Troy Donahue in My Blood Runs Cold; Sal Mineo in Who Killed Teddy Bear?; and Stella Stevens in The Mad Room.
Carol Lynley threw her hat into the ring, so to speak, in 1969 when she was cast as a homicidal psychopath who entraps unsuspecting golfer Paul Burke into a bizarre reciprocal murder scheme in Once You Kiss a Stranger directed by Robert Sparr for Warner Bros. A failure back then, today is it entertainingly campy thanks to Carol’s wonderfully over-the-top performance. Fans who only know Carol for playing wispy Nonnie in The Poseidon Adventure will be pleasantly surprised by her look and performance here.
“Suggested” by a Patricia Highsmith novel, obviously Strangers on a Train, this is a sort-of-remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie with a sport and gender switch. In the original, victim Robert Walker’s game was tennis while Farley Granger was a much more subtle protagonist who pullsWalker into a quid-pro-quo murder pact after a chance meeting on a train.
In Once You Kiss a Stranger subtlety is thrown out the window as Lynley’s petulant Diana is an obvious wacko from the get-go with a dotty old auntie (Kathryn Givney) that won’t give her money to go off to Europe and a shrink (Whit Bissell) who wants to send her back to the loony bin. What’s a nut job to do? Go country clubbing, of course. There the devious lass meets Jerry “Second-Place” Marshall (Paul Burke) at the club’s bar on the eve of his golf tournament’s sudden death match with his rival Mike (Phil Carey). The married man rejects her but when she shows up at his hotel door in a slinky mini-dress he has a change of heart and invites her in. Wanting to get her into bed, he plays along as she goes on about a hypothetical double murder scheme. He chalks up her ramblings to drunken foolishness but after a night of love making (secretly taped by a hidden camera in her oversize handbag, nat’ch) Mike turns up dead with his head bashed the next morning.
Diana proudly cops to the killing and expects Marshall to return the favor by offing her meddling doctor. When he balks and threatens to spill all to the police, she reveals that she video recorded their lovemaking and will show his newly arrived wife (Martha Hyer). The cunning gal also discloses that she used his golf club that has the victim’s dried blood on it and has no problem framing him for the murder. As added insurance, Diana reveals all to the missus. Trapped, Marshall goes to kill the doc but can’t go through with it and instead confesses. Meanwhile, his wife confronts Diana at her Malibu beach pad and after escaping a harpoon attempt on her is chased down the beach by the wild-eyed lunatic in a dune buggy. The vehicle crashes into a rock flipping over and a dazed Diana is removed from the wreckage by the police.
Once You Kiss a Stranger is not a great movie and production-wise is one step above the made-for-TV films of the era though it is nicely shot on location in Malibu. Paul Burke is deadly stoic as the hero and a frumpy Martha Hyer is hideously costumed and totally shrill as his wife. Luckily for them, the lovely Carol Lynley saves the movie and is the reason to watch. She completely enthralls the viewer right from the beginning as she rises out of the ocean bikini-clad ala Ursula Andress in Dr. No, pulling off her snorkeling mask to shake the water off her stylish short do, and then harpooning a little girl’s beach ball while hissing, “Stay off of my beach!” In her modish pad she goes after her pussycat with a butcher knife for sipping milk from her glass and then preens in front of a video camera the ahead of her time gal has hooked up to her TV (years before video recording became commonplace) before heading out in her convertible as the haunting title song plays over the opening credits. From that point on Lynley owns the movie and captivates the audience with her exquisite sex kittenish looks and over-the-top performance. She goes from being amusingly playful instructing the disapproving butler about poisoning her old aunt, to seductive getting the resistant Marshall into bed, to manipulative as she prods him to kill her doctor, to wild-eyed nuttiness as she slaps around her bedridden aunt and tries to run down Marshall’s wife. Lynley is having so much fun rolling her eyes as the unstable Diana that you can’t help but cheer for her as she makes life hell for a Burke’s somber hero and Hyer’s blowsy wife.
Despite Carol giving it her all, Once You Kiss a Stranger was not a hit and disappeared from theaters quickly. Comparisons to Hitchcock’s original were inevitable and critics had a field day panning the film though Lynley did receive some decent reviews. Despite their popularity, neither she nor Burke had the box office clout to draw an audience. Television didn’t treat the film any better as it got only intermittent air play over the years and it was never released on home video. Thankfully, Once You Kiss a Stranger is now available on DVD from Warner Bros. Archive and fans can now enjoy one of Carol Lynley’s most entertaining performances of her career.