At the high-security Greenwood Mental Asylum, a nurse is performing her rounds, injecting the patients with their medication until she reaches one certain room. Entering, she is suddenly attacked, with the syringe stuck in her arm by the patient and she is left unconscious as an escape attempt is launched. Knocking out the man on the door, the patient manages to get outside and into the surrounding woods before the alarm can be raised and when they make it to the road they steal a car, running over the driver who had popped out make a telephone call. Now the police must track them down...
Hayley Mills had a strange adulthood in films, perhaps because everyone was so used to seeing her as a child star that she seemed out of place in grown up roles. This could have been the reason she appeared in a handful of British thrillers which have since gone on to minor cult status thanks to her presence, along with the odd drama, and Deadly Strangers was one of the more obscure of her efforts during the seventies. Playing an apparent innocent in danger here, it's odd to be reminded she was already a mother when this was filmed, as roles like these suited her so well.
Of course, here her Belle Adams is a little more brittle than before, which could be down to the great British countryside on display here: true to Brit form, the whole film looks bone-chilling. And when the supposed chills of your plot are upstaged by the weather, then this indicates that the central mystery is far too drawn out, honestly, Hayley spends whole scenes without her coat on while wandering about outside, and you're more concerned with her catching her death of cold than being murdered by the maniac on the loose in the area.
When we first see Belle she is in a roadside cafe, and she manages to catch a lift from a truck driver (Ken Hutchison), but unfortunately he turns out to be a potential rapist who nearly gets his way with her but is luckily distracted by an approaching car and flees. The driver of the car is our chief suspect (the truck driver probably not having escaped from anywhwere although he'd be better off locked up), and he claims to be a travelling salesman called Stephen Slade (Simon Ward). He coaxes Belle into his car out of the rain and promises to escort her to the nearest railway station, but when they arrive there he pretends that she has missed the last train.
Is Stephen lonely for female company or does he have more sinister motives? This is what we have to decide; Deadly Strangers, if it is known for anything at all, is known for its red herrings, but there's really only one of them and it's a great big one that stretches through the film from the beginning to the twist at the end. It's guessable, but competently done, yet it's the landscape of rural seventies Britain that makes the most impression from its bumpy roads to its off-season seaside towns, both curiously bleak and melancholy. This is quite an atmospheric work and director Sidney Hayers toils hard not to give anything away and point us in the wrong direction, but he does it too well, and after a while you grow suspicious. Not to worry, enjoy the appearance of Sterling Hayden as an elderly and charming womaniser, and Hayley finally settling into her advancing years (well, she was nearly thirty!). Music by Ron Goodwin.