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Kidnappers, The (1953)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

1904. A remote settlement in Nova Scotia, Canada. Eight-year-old Harry McKenzie and his younger brother Davy are travelling to live with their grandparents, following the death of their mother. They meet Willem Bloem, the doctor of the settlement to which they are travelling, and admirer of the boys' aunt Kirsty. They tell him that their father was killed in the Boer War. Their grandfather, Jim McKenzie, claims that a Dutchman killed him.

Jim McKenzie is a respected figure in the community, but not well liked. He is openly bitter about the death of his son, and has allowed his prejudices towards the Boers to spread to the Dutchmen in his local community. He is in dispute with his neighbour Jan Hooft, about the ownership of a large hill that separates their land, and the two are sworn enemies. His only sentiment is for an old pair of boots given to him by his dead son.

The children quickly learn about the strict ways of the McKenzie home. Jim and his wife have lived a prudent life of hard work, strict Christianity and a faith in self-sufficiency, including the right to bear arms. Kirsty is excited to have children in the house, but Jim, although proud of the boys, feels estranged from them. He takes solace in defending the hill with his rifle. While out on patrol, he is told that Hooft has registered ownership of the land; Jim, however, refuses to accept the law and threatens to shoot Hooft if he trespasses.

The boys soon settle in their new home, and Harry is encouraged to start school. He gets into a fight on his first day with Jan Hooft Jr, claiming that Hooft has stolen his grandfather's land. Already influenced by Jim, he refuses to make amends and the teacher has to beat them. Too young for school, Davy is bored at home. He tries to talk the family into getting a pet dog, but Jim abruptly dismisses the idea.

The following day, the boys are mischievously throwing pebbles at Dr Bloem, when Davy falls off a large rock, bruising his knee. The accident gives Kirsty the opportunity to visit Bloem, but Harry, still prejudiced about Dutchmen, refuses to go along. Instead he spies Jan Hooft Jr playing on the McKenzie hill. He sneaks up to attack him, and the boys fight again. Jim spots the boys from afar but, failing to recognise who they are, shoots at them. The bullets sober the boys and they quickly become pals as they try to escape the danger.

Later, horsemen arrive with the news that Hooft Sr has lost his newborn baby. While the adults talk, Harry takes Davy away, revealing that he has found a baby. Unaware of Hooft's missing daughter, the boys create a den and Harry spends a lot of time nursing her. He is eventually reprimanded for being absent from school and is locked up in the McKenzie tool shed as punishment. That night, Jim is talked into letting Harry out, but on his way to release him, he spots Kirsty and Bloem together. In his anger he insults Kirsty, who runs off in shame. Bloem promises to find her and take her away.

At the tool shed, Harry is concerned for the baby and tries to talk Davy into going to the den to care for her. But Davy gets scared of the dark, and screams out the baby's whereabouts to Jim and his grandmother. The following morning, despite the safe return of the baby to the Hoofts, Harry is arrested for kidnapping.

In town, a civil court is established to examine whether Harry has acted with malice. Initially, the judge threatens reform school, but the Hoofts defend Harry, accepting responsibility for the loss of their daughter and stating that Harry didn't know the baby was theirs. Harry is freed with a warning. Jim forces him to say sorry to Hooft and thanks Hooft for speaking at court. He sends the boys back to the family home and later that evening returns, barefoot, announcing he has sold his boots to buy the boys a pet dog.