Friday, April 8, 2011

Favourite movies: The Kidnappers (1953)

A movie can become a family heirloom or treasure whose oft-quoted lines become part of how you communicate. 1953s The Kidnappers sometimes known as The Little Kidnappers is such a movie. My late father, when pouring a glass of milk, would say he was "tapping the goat". That might seem an odd thing to say to someone who hasn't seen The Kidnappers, but to us, it would be odd if he didn't say it.

Neil Paterson adapted the screenplay from his own short story Scotch Settlement. The film was shot in England by director, later producer, Philip Leacock. Highly thought of at the time of its release, The Kidnappers young stars Jon Whiteley and Vincent Winter were each awarded Honorary (juvenile) Oscars. The film was nominated for the Grand Prize of the Festival at Cannes. BAFTA nominations included Best British Actor for Duncan Macrae, Best British Film and Best Film From Any Source.

Vincent Winter, Jon Whiteley
Honorary Oscar Winners

Set in Nova Scotia at the turn of the 20th century, the story of The Kidnappers concerns two orphaned brothers from western Canada sent to live with their grandparents in Nova Scotia. Harry (Jon Whiteley), the eldest brother is serious and thoughtful. Newly five Davy (Vincent Winter) is lively and curious. The granddaddy, Jim MacKenzie (Duncan Macrae), is not a mean man, but one who has found in his way in life through discipline and hard work. He has never learned the art of relating to the young.

MacKenzie's hardbound ways drove his son away who married and settled at the far end of the country. Prior to their mother's death from illness, young Harry and Davy's father was killed in the Boer War. Jim MacKenzie's bitterness at his son's death is heightened by a land dispute with Dutch neighbours, the Hoofts. His daughter Kirsty's (Adrienne Corri) affection for the widowed Dr. Bloem (Theodore Bikel) doesn't have a chance under her father's harsh family rule.

Vincent Winter, Jon Whiteley, Jean Anderson
Duncan Macrae, Adrienne Corri

The lonely youngsters ask their granddaddy for a dog and the old man dismisses the idea. It is simply not practical and to illustrate his position he explains to the boys that "you can't eat a dog". Fearsome as Jim MacKenzie seemed to the boys before, this pronouncement turns him into an ogre.

The neighbouring Hooft children are many and when playing, the youngest is inadvertently left alone. A sense of duty toward the abandoned tyke and joy at having something to love turn Harry and Davy into little kidnappers.

Davy: "Are we going to keep it forever?"
Harry: "I don't know... We'll keep it for a year or two anyways, until it's got a mind of its own - and then, if it wants to hit the trail, there won't be no stopping it."

Anthony Michael Heathcoat as Baby Girl Hooft
Vincent Winter

The last act of the movie concerns the impact of the loss, the search for the baby, and the discovery of the perpetrators. Lessons are learned and lives are changed.

The Kidnappers is a unique story, charmingly told with affection for human nature and an unassuming wit. A true treasure from the trove of classic films.


  1. Aye, a treasure, indeed. I had seen it many years ago and was delighted to have the chance to view it last year. Heartfelt and honest, it still chokes me up. You articulate my thoughts on the film. It gets me on such an emotional level...brothers are for each other...sister, too.
    Thanks for this post.

  2. Thank you, novabreeze.

    I was surprised to see on the IMDb site that this winning little movie has only 232 votes. "The Kidnappers" certainly deserves to be more well known.

  3. I guess it's a buried treasure.

  4. This sounds marvelous. Alas, I've never seen it, but it sounds great.

    I think Charlton Heston did a remake for this for one of the cable channels - perhaps the Disney Channel?

  5. I hope someday you have the opportunity to see this film, Kevin.

    The remake, named "The Little Kidnappers" was filmed on location on Cape Breton Island for the Disney channel. Despite being a Heston fan I have yet to catch up with the 1990 version.

  6. Where have I been? I'm late reading your latest post. I've never seen this movie, and you make it sound wonderful. The setting is one of those places in the world I would love to visit, and the story sounds so good. I hope I can find this one. Thanks for a lovely write-up of one of your family favorites!

  7. Classic Becky, I think you are just the sort of person "The Kidnappers" was made for!

  8. Caftan Woman, like Becky, I can't believe I've never seen this movie. Sounds like jus the kind of picture that I would like. Will be on the lookout for it!

  9. I shouldn't be surprised if we have started sending a special "The Kidnappers" vibe out into the movie universe and it is picked up by Criterion or the folks at TCM. Well, actually I would be surprised, but here's hoping.

  10. Joining the Never Seen It club. Dang.

  11. It's a mystery as to how such a well-made, respected (award noms at the time) and loved (by those that have seen it) movie has fallen through the cracks of time.

    "The Kidnappers" will captivate you, Jacqueline.

  12. Count me in as part of the "Never Seen THE LITTLE KIDNAPPERS Gang", too! I've heard of it -- I even knew its young stars had won juvenile Oscars -- but I've never had the opportunity to see the film. I'll keep an eye out for it on TCM and such, as you've made it sound like my kind of film; "Movie Quote Speak" is our family's second language. :-) Thanks for the tip, Caftan Woman!

  13. Dorian, "movie quote speak" is a special bonding, isn't it? Something I'm sure the original filmmakers did not foresee.

    My special needs son has limited independent language skills, but when he quotes a line from a favourite cartoon classic we know what he wants us to know.

  14. Caftan Woman, I can certainly identify with your comments about "movie quote speak" being a special bonding. Our daughter Siobhan has been diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger's Syndrome, and she -- and by extension, we -- have been lucky enough to be high-functioning enough to have been in our local mainstream school with an Inclusion Aide since she was in first grade. She's been on the Honor Roll twice, too, with report card grades ranging from B+ to A+, bless her. Anyway, when Siobhan first learned to speak, many of her first words included lines from her favorite cartoons and kiddie movies. Happily, over the years, she's learned how to turn what we call "TV talk" or "bits" (as in "She's doing a bit from that show she likes") into cool pop culture references that lead her into having actual conversations with real people -- further proof that movies and TV shows are good for you! :-)

  15. "Cool" comes in so many forms, Dorian. Congratulations to you and Siobhan for her achievements.

    I don't know where he gets it, but Gavin's taste has a strong classic streak. He thinks "Der Fuhrer's Face" (as he knows it from Donald Duck) is a contemporary song!

  16. Thanks for your kind words about Siobhan, and in turn, I salute you on clearly being a great mom to your son Gavin as well. It sounds like you're raising the lad right in both pop culture ways and everyday-life ways! :-) Kudos to both of you!

  17. This sounds like a wonderful film, Patricia and I love anything set in Nova Scotia. I hope that it will be available on DVD someday. Thanks for introducing the movie to me.

    Seeing the exceptional child actor Jon Whitely as a cast member made me look up his bio--no tragedy here, since today he is an art historian at Oxford's Ashmolean Museum!

    I loved him in Moonfleet and The Spanish Gardener. Doesn't this movie sound ideal for next year's TCM Oscar Fest?

  18. "Doesn't this movie sound ideal for next year's TCM Oscar Fest?"

    Moira, "The Kidnappers" and "TCM" would be a match made in - Nova Scotia!

  19. I've seen the Charlton Heston remake, which I thought was a lovely film, and I'd definitely be interested in seeing the original. From the quotes in your review it sounds like a lot of the script was very similar. Have to keep an eye out and see if it makes it to DVD!

  20. Elisabeth, it would seem that the second film version of the story wouldn't want to tamper with what worked. I'll have to catch up with it one of these days.

    Thanks for stopping by. I was very impressed with your blog. Folks, I recommend:

  21. The Kidnappers will finally be released on DVD in the UK on Monday, June 11th, 2012 and is available from amazon uk and all the usual outlets.

    David Rayner.

  22. Thank you, David, for the good news.

  23. Caftan Woman, I've heard of THE KIDNAPPERS (I first heard of it under the title THE LITTLE KIDNAPPERS myself), but like others here, I have yet to see it. Now I'm definitely interested in checking it out. especially with your comments about how dear it is to your family. Nice post indeed!

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