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.


Comments: 12

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  • Michael H

    I’ve never seen this movie but it always intrigued me. You have to give Carol Lynley credit for attempting more demanding roles even if the films weren’t always top drawer. While she might not have had the dramatic range of a Tuesday Weld or Ann-Margret, she usually acquitted herself capably and she had a striking presence on screen. One of the few performances she gave that I did not care for was in the awful Norwood opposite Glen Campbell. But that film was so bad that no one could have saved it. I’ll order Once You Kiss A Stranger based on your recommendation.

    • Hope you enjoy it! But have to disagree with you about Norwood. This is one of my top Carol Lynley’s performances. I thought she was just wonderful and funny as the foul-mouth hooker and looked fabulous. There is a lot of back story with this movie. Carol took the part because the character was a hooker and cursed. It was an atypical role for her. But Glen Campbell began pressuring the director Jack Haley Jr. to tone Carol’s part down because his cornpone fans would not accept him in an adult movie. Carol pleaded with Haley to let her say the lines as is. She does but if you noticed some are bit muddled on the soundtrack.

      Also she and Campbell’s Norwood have sex in the back of the car, but this entire segment was excised at last second again not to upset Campbell’s fans. Haley was furious, but the producer Hal Wallis blamed him for not getting good enough performances from the actors. Hogwash! Wallis sided with Campbell to get a G rating despite the few “bitch” and “bastard” Lynley utters.

      If you notice carefully at end of picture where they flash a pic and actor’s name, the shot of Lynley used is not in the movie. And there are a few movie stills of these not used scenes available on Ebay.

  • Michael H

    Wow, very interesting. I knew nothing about the back story on that film. My reaction had more to do with the film itself and Glen Campbell who was painful to watch. Not to knock the guy, but he was no actor IMO. As for Carol, I agree, she gave the film a desperately needed jolt of adrenaline for a little while. Thanks for sharing the scoop.

  • John Black

    Now, I’ll have to find NORWOOD, which I’ve never seen. Another disastrous performance by a singer was Roy Orbison’s tone-deaf/deadpan performance in THE FASTEST GUITAR ALIVE. Hilariously bad.

    • Not available on DVD, but for download via Netflix.

  • Michael H

    Correct. I finally caught Norwood by streaming it over Netflix. For those of you old enough to remember The Smothers Brothers variety show, the oddball cast includes a supporting turn by Leigh French as Norwood’s trashy sister. You will also spot Meredith McRae as Joe Namath’s good time girlfriend. I hate to say it but Kim Darby was even worse in this than Glen Campbel. Norwood is a curiosity to say the least, but it’s worth your time if you can’t get enough of cheesy late 60’s films.

    • Kim Darby did not want to do this picture but she felt she owed producer Hal Wallis who cast her in True Grit opposite John Wayne and Glen Campbell. Norwood plays like an Elvis Presley movie many of them produced by Wallis. Elvis should have starred as Norwood with Campbell in the Joe Namath supporting role. I am not a Kim Darby fan, but thought she was sweet. She is defeated by the frustrating character who is exactly as written in the novel. Carol Lynley, Tisha Sterling as a hippie, and Meredith MacRae do come off better than Darby.

  • John Black

    I had no idea that NORWOOD has such a great cast (MacRae, Darby, and Sterling). I’ll have to look for it, although I don’t do Netflix at all.

    • Norwood is a Paramount film and is only available via streaming from NetFlix that I know of. Perhaps some other commercial streaming sites as well. Definitely not on available on DVD unfortunately. I know it will never happen but would love to see it released on DVD with those deleted Carol Lynley/Glen Campbell scenes added back or as Extras.

  • Michael H

    Tom, thanks for posting what was going on behind the scenes on this film. Really helps to understand the context and the challenges facing the director and the cast. I t also makes me think twice about criticizing a performance when I consider what the actors were up against.

  • I feel like I grew up with Carol Lynley. We are the exact age to the very day february 6 1942. I always wondered why carol didn’t continue her career a bit more. Seeing recent interview of her, speaking about Roddy McDowal I noticed she didn’t fall into the “cosmetic surgery” as many actresses do.
    Honestly I wish she would have indulged the correct amount. She was so gorgeous. You can see still her well defined features. But she looked really haggard for a Hollywood 70 year old actress.
    It’s one thing to be genuine, but certain procedures in the right physicians hand are wonderful.
    Sure, we can’t look 48, but I wonder why my beautiful actress idol didn’t do a little nip and tuck.

    • I have sometimes thought the same thing. However, I think she has skin damage from too much sun living in Malibu all this time. She aged a lot in the past five years. She really gave up acting over 10 years or so ago so she probably feels why bother. If she feels good about herself that is all that matters. I rather her age naturally then pull a Joan Van Ark or Donna Mills or Linda Evans where they are practically unrecognizable now.

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