The Kidnappers (1953)

Originally released in 1953, The Kidnappers stars Jon Whiteley, Vincent Winter, Adrienne Corri, Jean Anderson, Theodore Bikel, and Duncan Macrae.

The story follows two little orphaned boys, Harry (Whiteley) and Davy (Winter). The boys begin the film on the way to join their grandparents (Anderson and Macrae) in Nova Scotia, who are taking them in but have never met them before. On their way to the village, the boys meet Dr Bloem (Bikel), who seems kind. They also talk about their expectations of their new life. They think there will be lots of animals, and they will have a dog.

Also living with them is their Aunt Kirsty (Corri). Their initial findings on contact with their new family is that their Grandfather, Jim MacKenzie, is rather hard and severe. Their Grandmother is kinder and more nurturing, however she follows her husband’s will on most things. Aunt Kirsty is the gentlest and softest with them. She doesn’t spoil the boys, but disapproves of her father’s harshness with them.

Settling In…

The boys take some time to settle into their new life. They must walk around the farm with no shoes. They are required to help with chores. Harry has to go to school, where most of the teaching is based on religious opinion rather than fact. There he meets the neighbour’s son Jan Hooft Jr, played by Christopher Beeny. They fight because Jim and Jan Sr fight. Jim’s fight with Jan Hooft Sr is over a piece of land which both men believe to belong to them.

When Davy hurts his leg, Kirsty is sure to take him to Dr Bloem for a follow-up check. We find out that she is in love with him, but he won’t admit to reciprocating. Kirsty is also fearful what her father would say. Bloem is Dutch, and Jim disapproves of them following the Boer War.

The boys are somewhat disappointed with the reality of life with the MacKenzies. Grandaddy refuses to get them a dog. He says it is unnecessary and impractical. Little Davy does not go to school, instead helping around the farm with Grandmother and Kirsty.

The Kidnappers…

One day Harry tells him he has a surprise. He takes Davy to the secret little hideout they have beside the river. Inside there is a baby. Davy asks what it is, then whose it is. Harry explains with innocence and good faith that he just found it, so it must be theirs now. Davy suggests they should call the baby “Rover”, as this is the name he had picked out for their longed-for pet dog.

While away from the farm, they are unaware that locals have stopped by the farm. The Hoofts’ baby has been taken. They continue to care for the baby, with Harry sneaking out after bedtime to tend to it. He tells Davy that babies have to drink milk and have their nappies changed. Harry is found out for not attending school. Grandaddy punishes him by beating him and locking him in the woodshed for the night. Little Davy realises the baby still needs to be looked after, so sneaks out to take care of her. Grandaddy catches him and forces Davy to take him to the hideout. Grandaddy returns the baby to the Hoofts.

The trial…

Little Harry is taken away for abducting her. The locals intend to try him. The rudimentary court proceedings take place in the general store. We find out that they have been in touch with the nearest prison: thankfully they will not take the lad. Corrective school is mentioned. Grandaddy stands and addresses the court. He threatens them with violence if they send Harry away. Here Jan Hooft intervenes. He vouches for Harry. He knows that his son Jan Jr has become friends with Harry. Jan admits that the failing is his daughter’s, who was responsible at the time for the baby and wandered off to play rather than watching closely. The case is dismissed and Harry goes free.

The ending…

Grandaddy instructs Harry to write a letter for him. He has found the print advert the boys had for some Red Setter puppies for sale. He tells Harry to write that they would like to buy one. Little Davy turns beaming to Harry, saying that they should call it Rover.

My Impressions…

The Kidnappers is a sweet film. Nova Scotia is depicted as a severe place to live. It was new and untouched when the MacKenzies made their start there. It shows Jim to be as harsh as the land he has fought to cultivate. He was mean and hard with both his children, which caused his son to leave home and not return. It takes his grandchildren to open his eyes to gentleness and joy.

Theodore Bikel is great as Dr Bloem. He brings a soft kindness and wisdom to the role, in contrast against Macrae’s upright, tight-lipped Grandaddy. Adrienne Corri brings a moodiness and rails against her father’s unjust treatment as Kirsty, while Jean Anderson ably portrays the conflict of a wife and mother between her husband’s rule and her instinct to nurture and protect her children and grandchildren. The supporting cast are very effective also, with special mention here to young Christopher Beeny.

But the standout performance in The Kidnappers is the children. Jon Whiteley is superb here, as ever. He is so watchable, his acting style is so minimalist and natural. Little Vincent Winter as Davy has the perfect amount of innocence, precocity and charm. The two together are beyond compelling. It is no wonder that this film earned them both Honourary Juvenile Oscars.

In Conclusion…

The music, photography of beautiful scenery and the cast all come together to make this a very effective film. The story is moving, with the little boys bringing sympathy by the bucket load. A film like this, lead in a large part by child actors, could be saccharine. But it is so well cast and well played that it cannot help but strike a chord. When there are moments of injustice, before there is a chance to be turned off, the innocence of the children balances it all out.

Nothing is overplayed. Again, there are moments which could be over-sweet, but they are played so honestly that they pluck at the heartstrings. The Kidnappers is well worth every moment of its 93-minute run time. It is sweet and interesting, intriguing, exciting and heartwarming. The mood is well balanced between all of these qualities. I have one piece of advice for anyone watching: come prepared for the most unadulterated, pure cuteness you have ever seen in a child actor. Winter brings it in spades, with the least grating and most endearing childlike enthusiasm and charm. He ascends to another level of lovability even than Jon Whiteley’s film debut in Hunted which is also sublime.

The Kidnappers is available to stream on ITVX.

Leave a Reply

Next Post

Dixon of Dock Green Episode Review: Harry's Back

Tue May 7 , 2024
Following on in our weekly review series on police procedural series Dixon of Dock Green, this week I will be discussing the next surviving episode, entitled Harry’s Back. Shown on […]
Dixon of Dock Green: Harry's Back

You May Like