Released as the support feature to The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Don't Talk to Strange Men is a very effective creeper that is worthy of a larger audience. Clocking in at just over an hour in running time, film thrives on tension building and mood without having to spill a drop of blood. Story effectively is about a teenage girl called Jean (Christina Gregg), who whilst waiting for her bus on a secluded country lane, answers the phone ringing at the phone box situated by the stop. The voice on the phone is a charming and well spoken man, he strikes up a conversation with the intrigued girl and it's not long before the two of them are arranging to speak to each other at the same time tomorrow, and the next day..... Jean begins fantasising about the man, conjuring up images of the perfect male. They are destined to meet up, does she not know these are dangerous times? Where young ladies fall prey to predatory monsters....
The settings are perfect, Jean and her family live in some idyllic country village, the phone box and bus stop that houses the verbal "grooming" is at the junction of two pretty country lanes, and even the pub where Jean goes to help out is the kind of petite "off the beaten track" variety. It's these locations that give off a false sense of security, a normality of easy going life where nothing can go wrong..... But as we know all too well these days, nowhere is safe and parents constantly live in fear for their children. With that, Don't Talk to Strange Men is something of a film ahead of its time, substitute naive Jean's phone box "relationship" with that of today's Internet groomers of youngsters, and, well, you get my point I'm sure.
Neatly directed by Pat Jackson (The Feminine Touch), the film is structured in such a way that we the audience get fretful as each day, and each phone conversation, passes. Where once was this attractive young lady framed by countryside and the old fashioned value of the red phone box, now is replaced by surroundings that are too quiet and a big red beacon of impending doom! It's an astute turning of the table, a testament to good writing and excellent directional pacing. And how nice to report that the ending, too, has something up its sleeve to reveal. The cast is minimal but very effective, with Gregg doing well to convince us of her love yearning naivety, Dandy Nicholls (Hue & Cry) memorable (wasn't she always?) as the wise bus conductor and Janina Faye (The Horror of Dracula) stealing the film as Jean's younger, politico activist in waiting, sister.
A lesson in how to get the maximum unease from such a simple premise, Don't Talk to Strange Men comes highly recommended. 8/10