Hunted (1952)

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A fugitive kidnaps a child and they form a close bond in this excellent thriller. 

The 1952 movie Hunted (U.S. The Stranger In Between), wastes no time getting started, as the camera follows a boy (Jon Whiteley) into the cellar of a derelict London building where he discovers Dirk Bogarde hiding next to a dead body. Unsure what to do with this little witness, Bogarde snatches the boy, and keeps a close grip on him as he tries to get into his flat for some cash, wanders about town trying to pawn clothes and score some cigarettes and a bite to eat. We eventually learn that the murdered man is Bogarde’s boss and that his wife (Elizabeth Sellars) had an affair with him, making the killing a crime of passion and making Bogarde more sympathetic.

Whiteley sticks with Bogarde from the start because he’s in no hurry to go home, if you could even call it that. He’s been adopted by an abusive couple, and he’s also a mischief maker whose most recent achievement is setting the curtains on fire, an act that guarantees him another level of beating. Though Whiteley initially tells Bogarde he doesn’t like him, the two outcasts become attached through their adventures and the picture is essentially a buddy movie, one of the original “fugitive-and-child” thrillers.

As the pair make it into Scotland to seek refuge at the home of Bogarde’s brother (Julian Somers), Bogarde tries to shake the boy, but Whiteley is by now fully devoted and even risks his life jumping off a bridge onto a moving train to stay with his new father figure. From then Bogarde is overtly caring and protective, giving his last piece of food and carrying the dead-tired boy through the countryside, breaking into silly giggles as he watches the boy stuff his face with fries the first full meal they get.

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Whiteley gives a fantastic, totally natural performance. He’s a lovable tyke of few words but always the right ones, and is always hungry for food as well as crumbs of love and attention. He positively lights up at any sign of kindness and you get the feeling when he finally laughs that it’s something he might never have done, not this genuinely. This was Whiteley’s first film of the five that he made, and despite such a low movie count he has the distinction of being one of a dozen Academy Juvenile Award winners, for The Little Kidnappers (1953). He was to work with Bogarde again in The Spanish Gardener (1956), but after those few movies young Whiteley chose (better to say his mother chose for him) academics over movies and went on to become a noted art historian and writer.

Hunted is highly suspenseful, peppered with tense bits like the pair trying to slog through a marshy area, hiding in shadows, climbing down off ledges, jumping on the backs of trucks or slipping into boats, increasingly working as a team to get things done. When they stay at a boarding house, their landlady is suspicious about them but manages to switch off the radio just as the announcer begins to describe the child abducting “cellar murderer.” They’re always just a hair, a move away from being caught but manage to slip away each time, and you root for them more with each close call. The plot and pacing keeps you glued all the way, thanks to director Charles Chricton, whose The Lavender Hill Mob I reviewed here.

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Hunted works as a thriller but is also much more, with strong drama, interesting characters and memorable moments. There’s the detective who immediately recognizes that Whiteley’s parents are anything but caring and tells them off, or the landlady (Kay Walsh) who bathes the boy, notices lash marks all over his back and quizzes him about his family and the man he came in with. That night, Bogarde tells Whiteley a long and involved bedtime story that is his own autobiography, where he is the sailor in a happy marriage to a fair princess who learns his fair bride loves another. Hardly children’s bedtime story material, but Bogarde makes it a rich bit of acting that is sold all the way when the camera turns to a tearful Whiteley. “Why’d you have to come with me? It’s my life!” a frustrated Bogarde scolds the exhausted boy when he collapses in a field, and in the next instant Bogarde melts at the tears he’s caused, comforts the child again and carries him further (that carrying is echoed in a powerful final scene). When the little one becomes critically ill Bogarde must choose between the boy’s well being or his own freedom, which is by this point within easy reach. Through it all Bogarde gives a fine, understated, heartbreaking performance as the man who’s tormented, cruel and dangerous on the surface but still a gentle, romantic and honorable man beneath.

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Bogarde and Whiteley have amazing chemistry and forge a tight bond as they try to escape their respective miseries, and end up finding companionship and happiness in each other. Though their time together is brief, you know the boy will have learned valuable lessons, and you will have been moved by their relationship and Bogarde’s inevitable sacrifice.

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15 thoughts on “Hunted (1952)”

  1. Great writeup! I love this movie beyond all words. As you say, it’s a stupendously involving thriller, but it’s made that way by director and, I think, especially the cast. Bogarde has never been better, and Whiteley’s right up there with him; not to mention excellent support from a sizzling Elizabeth Sellars in her small role — ‘way out of her usual persona.

    People normally talk of The Third Man as being the paragon of UK noir, but I’d put this modest little number alongside it. I really must go dig it out and watch it (yet) again — thanks for the reminder!

    1. Absolutely loved it, for all the reasons you mention. I like Bogarde so much anyway but did Whiteley ever ace this, hard to believe it was his first picture! They were great friends off screen and that rapport certainly shines through. Definitely will end up on my “discoveries” of this yr. Thanks and glad to hear from another fan of this movie.

  2. Sounds like a very interesting movie! I just watched a film called Tiger Bay, with a very young Hayley Mills and Horst Bucholtz and the plot is extremely similar to this. It’s also a British film and was made just a few years later. It seems like a theme at that time, because I think Hayley Mills made another, similar British film in the ’60s called Whistle Down the Wind, though this came first. I am very curious to see Hunted now!

    1. Definitely a good time for you to watch it (it’s on youtube), it’s fun to compare movies with similar themes and stories. The fugitive-child plot is very handy for characterization and sympathy, and in that era also would have been able to address postwar changing society, poverty, etc. No wonder it’s something we see in movies right up to Leon, The Professional.
      Thanks for reading!

    2. Couldn’t agree more: Tiger Bay‘s excellent too, indeed has a very similar premise, and works largely because of the great chemistry between child and adult. Hunted seems to me the stronger of the two, though — perhaps, and this may sound odd, because it has less money thrown at it. There’s far less subplot to pull you away from the central situation. (Not sure if this makes sense.)

      Whistle Down the Wind is another huge favorite of mine, but it’s a very different movie. It’s concerned more, really, with mythopoeia: the kids, led by Mills, become convinced that that the wounded fugitive hiding in the barn must be Jesus, and they start building their legend from there. It’s not really about the relationship between the kids and the adult; even though the adult’s Alan Bates, he could really be anyone — he’s just the spark that gets the kids’ misconceptions ablaze. Or something.

      1. Thanks for this, I have to check these out myself, your description of Whistle Down the Wind reminds me a bit of Mud, another youth-fugitive/drifter plot, which also lends itself to the mythical, as you said.

        1. I have to check these out myself

          Oh, golly, please do: they’re both excellent movies. I’ve not seen Mud, so must put it on the list.

  3. Kristina, I don’t usually like kidnapping movies about little kids, but HUNTED has me interested, even touching! I’ll give this a try — thanks, my friend, and have a great night! 😀

    1. It is touching so I think it would surprise you, the kidnapping turns more into a buddy movie so I think you need not be worried about being disturbed by it. Try it, I was very impressed. Thanks!

  4. Thank you Kristina for highlighting this generally
    unheralded Brit Flick…..lovely review.
    Oddly enough THE WEAPON (1957) has just been released
    by Olive Films.
    Also starring Whiteley this one has even better London
    location work than HUNTED.
    A great Lizabeth Scott performance and we get to see
    Steve Cochran show his sensitive side.
    Knockout supporting cast as well.
    Another treat for Bogarde fans is the soon to be released
    CAMPBELL’S KINGDOM a sort of modern day Western
    (set in Canada but filmed in Italy!) which Network are giving
    the Blu-Ray treatment As this one was presented in the Hi-Def
    Vista Vision process the Blu should look sensational.
    This one has Dirk defending his property against a really nasty
    Stanley Baker.
    A doozy of a climax I might add!

    1. Thanks for the reminder about The Weapon, which I haven’t watched for far too long — must dig it out for another play. I’ve never seen Campbell’s Kingdom, but will look out for it.

    2. Good! THE WEAPON is another one I’m putting on my list to see, speaking of Cochran, I am right at this moment into the first minutes of HIGHWAY 301 based on your recommendation the other day!

      I do have CAMPBELL’S KINGDOM, love Stanley Baker so that’s a double treat for me. Browsing youtube yesterday I found THE FAST LADY with Baker and THE SINGER NOT THE SONG with Bogarde.

      Thanks!

      1. Whoops! THE FAST LADY stars Stanley BAXTER a popular
        Scottish comic who started off in features and became a
        huge TV star in the UK.
        Stanley Baker was really on a roll at the time,outstanding
        film followed outstanding film:
        HELL DRIVERS,VIOLENT PLAYGROUND,YESTERDAY’S
        ENEMY,THE ANGRY HILLS,JET STORM,BLIND DATE,
        HELL IS A CITY and THE CRIMINAL.
        I prefer him to Michael Caine any day of the week.
        I do hope you enjoy HIGHWAY 301, the scenes at the
        end of the film where Edmon Ryan’s imposing law enforcer
        gets on Virginia Grey’s case are sensational,the two actors
        make the scenes crackle with tension.

        1. Well somebody mislabeled this Youtube video and wrote Baker… have to say I’m disappointed as I was curious to see him in a comedy like that. Thanks! I’ve seen 4 of those you named of Baker’s, really like him and in The Criminal for example you could see that he’d make a good James Bond, apparently being tied to a franchise contract didn’t appeal to him. I really liked Highway 301 a LOT and will write a review in the next days. Great tip on that and I’ll be sure to check out more that you named here… Cheers

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