In between making two of the more winsome Ealing Comedies Charles Crighton tried his hand at directing a genuine crime thriller and pulled it off magnificently. Hunted opens with a young lad, not more than six, desperately running from something or someone. His flight is so pell mell he knocks into pedestrians, is almost run down by a drayhorse cart and when he seeks cover in a bombed out warehouse, runs smack bang into Dirk Bogarde…standing over a dead body.

Cursing his luck at this fluke murder witness, Bogarde grabs the kid and scarpers but the strange thing is the boy, despite having opportunities, makes no attempt to escape; choosing instead to stay with the killer. A case of extreme Stockholm Syndrome or is there something more to his story?

It turns out there is a reason the lad is too terrified to go home. Slowly, through the police investigation taking place on the pair’s tail and the spare comments from the boy himself we learn he is an adopted orphan who has a particularly heavy-handed father. He’s taken violent hidings in the past and expects his latest mishap – accidentally starting a small fire in his house – to result in a beating that might be his last, hence his aversion to a return home and his growing attachment to Bogarde.

For his part Bogarde has no time whatsoever for the kid, treating him first as a nuisance then as a tool to facilitate his escape: standing lookout and making furtive attempts to liberate money from Bogarde’s flat, which is under the watchful eye of Scotland Yard. But something strange happens over the course of the escape. As Bogarde’s options narrow and his flight takes the pair further and further from home they start to bond and a charming friendship, you might even say love, develops between them.

As mentioned earlier Crighton pulls off a mean feat with this film. Not only keeping the drama snare drum tight but at the same time sidestepping the pitfalls of sentimentality and condescension often inherent in adult dramas that feature children in central roles. Something like Whistle Down the Wind being a good example of a similar film not working as well as it should have.

The running time is 84 minutes and there is not a wasted moment. Like a great number of ’40s and ’50s thrillers from both sides of the Atlantic it keeps it short and sweet and packs quite an emotional punch right up to the final frame.

An excellent thriller that deserves wider recognition.

Hunted aka The Stranger in Between – directed by Charles Crighton (1952)

In Short
A murderer on the run reluctantly finds himself with an orphaned child for company.
Trailer here