What would you do if your child was kidnapped?
That’s the question asked in this unjustly obscure film from 1956. Dave Stannard (Glenn Ford) is a wealthy businessman, with a beautiful wife (Donna Reed), a big suburban home, and a butler named Chapman (the great Puerto Rican actor Juano Hernandez). One day, his son Andy (Bobby Clark) does not come home from school. The school says that a nurse showed up to pick Andy up for a doctor’s appointment but neither Dave nor his wife know about any appointment and their family doctor says that he would never send a nurse to pick up a patient.
Andy has been kidnapped. When the kidnappers call, they tell Dave that they want half a million dollars in ransom. Dave gets the money together but is then told, by reporter Charlie Telfer (Leslie Nielsen), that, once the kidnappers have the money, they will have no incentive to return Andy. Since Andy is the only person who could identity them to the police, they may very well kill Andy after getting the money. By paying the ransom, Dave will also be encouraging other kidnappers.
The next morning, Dave goes on television and announces that he will not be paying the ransom. Instead, he announces that if the kidnappers do not immediately return his son, the money will be given as a reward to anyone who helps to track them down.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because Ransom! was later remade by Ron Howard, with Mel Gibson as the father and Gary Sinise as the kidnapper. (Ransom! itself was a remake of a live television drama that aired in 1954.) As opposed to the Howard film, the original Ransom! is a low-key character piece, one that takes place almost entirely in the Stannard home and in which the kidnappers remain largely unseen. Almost the entire movie focuses on Dave, his decision, and his struggle to come to terms with that decision. Was Dave right or was he wrong? Ransom! is stagey but thought-provoking with excellent performances from the entire cast. Even Leslie Nielsen, making his film debut, does well in the type of dramatic role that defined his career until he reinvented himself as a masterful comedic actor.
They don’t make them like this anyone and that is too bad.