“Nobody but you and me are to know of this ‘babby’ — it’s ours!”
When two Scottish orphans (Jon Whiteley and Vincent Winter) are sent to Nova Scotia to live with their grandparents (Jean Anderson and Duncan Macrae), they learn that their father’s death in the Boer War has caused Macrae to hate and distrust all Dutch settlers in the area — including a kind local doctor (Theodore Bikel) who is romantically involved with their aunt Kirsty (Adrienne Corri). Meanwhile, the boys long for a pet dog to keep them company, but settle instead for a “lost” baby (Anthony Michael Heathcoat) they find in a meadow.
This enjoyable sleeper about two orphaned brothers adjusting to a new life in Canada features a strong sense of time and place, and believable characters who we quickly grow to care for. Both Whiteley and Winter are appealing and natural in the title roles, with Winter (the younger brother) especially charismatic; their childish yet dead-serious banter together — all spoken in a strong Scottish brogue — is priceless (“Are we going to keep it forever?” “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.”). While the boys’ gun-toting grandfather seems at first like simply an angry, self-righteous man with an iron will, several key scenes – including his interactions with the local schoolmaster (Jack Stewart), who’s ultimately even sterner than himself — reveal him to possess an innate sense of fairness and goodness, and it’s clear that his character may develop for the better. The story moves along at a leisurely but natural pace, with the key plot development (the boys’ innocent kidnapping of a baby) not occurring until more than halfway through the film; the outcome of this event — while perhaps mildly predictable — offers a satisfying resolution on every count.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Vincent Winter as Davy MacKenzie
- Duncan Macrae and Jean Anderson as Davy and Harry’s
- Nice period detail
- Many memorable lines: “Don’t eat the babby, granddaddy!”
No, but it’s recommended.
One thought on “Little Kidnappers, The (1953)”
First viewing. A must – for reasons written in the assessment!
I was thoroughly taken with this relatively unknown gem. It first entices with its – as stated – “strong sense of time and place”. And then the characters grab and hold you.
Here’s my pitch: it’s so difficult coming across a film about children that isn’t cloying, or insulting to the discriminating ff – so when one like this comes along, how can one but champion it and wish it a larger audience? Certainly fans of the classic (and must-see) ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ will benefit from the relationship between Whiteley and Winter – and see a certain similarity with Jem and Scout. (I particularly love Winter’s often funny/quizzical look. As well, his ‘exchange’ with the ‘babby’ alone makes a watch worth it.) So much of the brothers’ out-of-loyalty dialogue is priceless. As witness this exchange re: what to name the ‘babby’:
Davy: What are ya gonna call it, Harry?
Harry: Ain’t exactly settled on a name yet.
Davy: You could call it Rover.
Harry: No, no.
Davy: Rover’s a good name, Harry.
Harry: Rover’s a dog’s name. It’s a good name for a dog, but not for a babby.
What is also of note is the depiction of the fundamentalist granddad. It would have been easy to make him a taciturn cliche. But instead he’s presented as somewhat garrulous and relatively forthcoming with information about himself (to his grandsons).
Considering the landscape of the film’s characters, if things didn’t move at a clip (as they do here), all could seem quite stifling.
The naturalism of the cast in general is astonishing. Macrae and Anderson are pitch-perfect. Of the more known among the cast: Corri would, of course, go on to be (in)famous for the rape scene in ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (impossible to imagine from her performance here). Bikel, here intense and even sexy, would likewise not have a long career on the big screen (unfortunately, considering the potential in his work here). But, whenever he shows up, he’s memorable. This film is quite a good showcase for him.