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Kidnappers, The (1953)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Kidnappers, The (1953)
35mm, black and white, 95 mins
Directed byPhilip Leacock
Production CompanyGroup Film Productions
Produced bySergei Nolbandov, Leslie Parkyn
Screenplay byNeil Paterson
PhotographyEric Cross
Music byBruce Montgomery

Cast: Duncan MacRae (Grandaddy Jim MacKenzie); Jean Anderson (Grandmother MacKenzie); Theodore Bikel (Willem Bloem); Adrienne Corri (Kirsty); John Whiteley (Harry); Vincent Winter (Davy)

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Two orphan boys, living with their strict grandfather in Nova Scotia, long for a dog, but instead find themselves in charge of a kidnapped baby...

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A breakthrough film for its director Philip Leacock, The Kidnappers has a simplicity that has endeared it to many. The film is a tale of innocence that centres on an amusing conceit: how do two young boys cope with looking after their 'found' baby? The two leading boys' playful performances, complimented by Leacock's assured direction, give the film its standout scenes, but it is to the credit of screenwriter Neil Paterson that beneath the entertaining vignettes is a strong narrative about a small community faced with the challenges of the growth of nation states and global integration.

The Nova Scotia setting provides a dramatic background for the children's adventures. Initially evoking a romantic idyll, the land around them is soon marked as dangerous territory - for the boys especially - as it becomes more politicised. Davy takes a nasty fall off a picturesque riverbank when trying to taunt a family rival and Harry is almost shot dead while defending the McKenzie hilltop. This physical threat is matched by certain emotional hazards imposed on the boys by the adults in their community. Harry, in particular, inherits strong prejudices from his grandfather, but has little understanding of the implications of his actions. At the end of the film, neither Davy nor Harry reveal a great deal of insight into the meaning of the kidnapping incident - their greatest concern is with the arrival of a new pet dog. It is the adults who learn from the story's events. They have to accept that their community must become integrated to survive, and that they are now part of a developing nation and must live by its governing laws.

The film was successful with audiences and critics alike, while both children went on to win honorary Oscars for their performances. John Whiteley also enjoyed a few years as a successful child actor, appearing in Fritz Lang's pirate adventure Moonfleet (US, 1955), among other films. A further highlight of his young career was another Leacock-directed drama, The Spanish Gardener (1958), which, like The Kidnappers, explored the dark mysteries of the adult world as experienced by children. It secured Leacock's reputation as an instinctive director of children, which culminated in the disturbing Reach For Glory (1961).

Dylan Cave

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Video Clips
1. An education (4:35)
2. The baby (3:07)
3. Rescuing the baby (3:53)
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Corri, Adrienne (1931-)
Leacock, Philip (1917-1990)
Children on Film