The Little Kidnappers
The Little Kidnappers FilmPoster.jpeg
American poster
Directed byPhilip Leacock
Written byNeil Paterson
Produced bySergei Nolbandov
Leslie Parkyn
StarringDuncan Macrae
Jon Whiteley
Vincent Winter
CinematographyEric Cross
Edited byJohn Trumper
Music byBruce Montgomery
Distributed byGeneral Film Distributors
Release date
  • 17 December 1953 (1953-12-17)
Running time
93 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom

The Kidnappers (US: The Little Kidnappers) is a 1953 British film, directed by Philip Leacock and written by Neil Paterson.[1]


In the early 1900s, two young orphaned brothers, eight-year-old Harry (Jon Whiteley) and five-year-old Davy Mackenzie (Vincent Winter) are sent to live in a Scottish settlement in Nova Scotia, Canada, with their stern Grandfather (Duncan Macrae) and Grandmother (Jean Anderson) after their father's death in the Boer War. The boys would love to have a dog but are not allowed, Grandaddy holding that "ye canna eat a dog". Then they find an abandoned baby. Living in fear of Grandaddy (he beats Harry, the older boy, for disobeying him), they conceal it from the adults. They view the baby as a kind of substitute for the dog that they have been denied (Davy, the younger boy, asks his brother, "Shall we call the baby Rover, Harry?").

Grandaddy is having problems with the Dutch settlers who have arrived at the settlement in increasing numbers after leaving South Africa at the end of the Boer War. He has had a long-running dispute with Afrikaner Jan Hooft (Francis de Wolff) over ownership of a hill and refuses to accept a legal ruling that the land, in fact, belongs to Hooft. He also keeps a close rein on his grown-up daughter Kirsty (Adrienne Corri) and is reluctant for her to make a life for herself. She is in love with the local doctor Willem Bloem (Theodore Bikel), who left Holland for Canada for reasons he will not disclose. He does not return her affections.

To make matters worse, it turns out that the "kidnapped" baby is Hooft's younger daughter. When found out, Harry is tried at a court set up in the local trading store. He is suspected of taking the baby as a result of the tensions between the two families but states that he did not know her identity. Surprisingly, Hooft speaks up in his defense, stating that no harm had come to her and his older daughter should have been looking after her. The court official suggests that Harry be sent to a corrective school, and is immediately threatened with shooting by Grandaddy. The clerk climbs down, merely suggesting an investigation into the location of these schools in case a further kidnapping should occur. Afterwards, Grandaddy thanks Hooft for speaking up for Harry.

The film ends with Grandaddy (who had never learned to read or write) instructing Harry to write to a mail order company to order the red setter they had set their hearts on. He had found the flyer for the dog in one of his best boots, where the boys had hidden it. They had noticed that he sometimes walked without these boots, slinging them over his shoulder, to save wear and tear. To pay for the dog, Grandaddy had sold them – a prized item among his few possessions. Davy is now able to say, "I think we'll call him Rover, Harry."

One of the film's most memorable moments comes with the horror on Duncan Macrae's face at what his grandson must have thought of him when the little boy implores "Don't eat the babbie, grandaddy!".



The film was based on Neil Paterson's short story "Scotch Settlement", and was the eighth most popular movie at the British box office in 1954.[2]

Both Whiteley and Winter were presented with Honorary Juvenile Acting Oscars for their performances, which had been coached by director Margaret Thomson.[3] In addition, the film was nominated for three BAFTA Film Awards and was entered into the 1954 Cannes Film Festival.[4]

A second film based on the same Patterson short story was released in 1990, under the original film's American title (The Little Kidnappers).[5] Starring Charlton Heston in the role of Granddaddy, the film was written by Coralee Elliott Testar and shot entirely on location in Nova Scotia.[6]


  1. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Kidnappers, The (1953)".
  2. ^ "U.S. STAR HEADS FILM POLL". The Advertiser. Adelaide. 31 December 1954. p. 11. Retrieved 24 April 2012 – via National Library of Australia.
  3. ^ "Margaret Thomson. NZonscreen.
  4. ^ "Festival de Cannes: The Little Kidnappers". Retrieved 25 January 2009.
  5. ^ "The Little Kidnappers (1990)".
  6. ^ "The Little Kidnappers (1990) - Donald Shebib - Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related - AllMovie". AllMovie.