This is the nineteenth and shortest chapter of Special Friendships, Steven Freeman's unpublished book about the depiction of close friendships between men and boys in film, which is introduced here.
Footloose and fancy free
If Fergus McClelland was no more than the buxom object of a trans-continental pass-the-parcel exercise in “SAMMY GOING SOUTH”, the same criticism could not be levelled at another boy-on-the-road film, “THE FOOL KILLER” (65). Virtually unknown outside the US, this was a baffling hotchpotch of a yarn — runaway post Civil War boy (Edward Albert Jr) hops a train to escape switch-happy foster-parents, moves in with an old crazy man who likes his place kept dirty, falls ill, is put into the care of a sober family of the nearest town, runs away before they can ship him back home for another whipping, then strikes up a strange fellowship of the road with a disturbed shell-shock victim (Anthony Perkins). The boy goes off his head during a frenzied revivalist meeting, is dumped by Perkins, and finally consents to live pro tem with a childless storekeeper couple.
A strange, quasi-underground film with decidedly rough technical edges, it affected to be allegorical but had no real idea what it wanted to say. Very sixties then. Is Anthony Perkins the mysterious supernatural “fool killer” the crazy old man had spoken of, or isn’t he? Well gee, who cares? What was significant about the film, under its muddle of clashing styles, was the extent to which it portrayed the boy, 13, as an autonomous free agent, both able and fit to pick his own road in life. There was no implicit agenda that he should be corralled “for his own good”, like Sammy, nor that “the authorities know best”. The Family, for once, was not portrayed as a self-evident good, but as a harbour of convenience, from which one should be free to sail when the time is ripe. Huckleberry Finn would have approved of that. Nature’s boy should be footloose and fancy free.