I am as old as hell itself so I remember seeing Ransom in the theater in 1996. It was a very popular movie and Mel Gibson was a big star back then. I was dimly aware that the movie was a remake of a film of the same name. Actually, the original was Ransom! That exclamation point must have been big news back in 1956. I’ve since had a chance to see the 1956 version and I intend to review it and then review the 1996 remake and compare them.
Glenn Ford and Donna Reed star as David and Edith Stannard a married couple with a young son named Andy. They are very wealthy because David and his brother Al own a very successful company. We see the child and parents in a comical argument caused by Andy “stealing” the boards from under his parents’ bed to build his backyard fort. We witness the way David dotes on the boy and promises to break away from his busy work to join the boy in his construction project. The mother and father send the boy off to his school bus and then David heads off to work. We also meet the major domo of the household servants Jesse Chapman. He is a Southern Black Christian man, much given to reciting scripture who very seriously attends to the welfare of his employer’s family.
At work we find David contending with his brother Al over whether the company should continue to advance into new product models or wait until more return is collected on the earlier models. Although the brothers quarrel, they show affection for each other. Later we see David return home having “stolen” some lumber from a willing construction site foreman and asks his wife where their son is. She says he is still at school but David informs her that it is past his time. Immediately the phone rings and Edith hear from a school administrator that a “nurse” from Dr. Gorman’s office took Andy from school to be seen by the doctor. Now, both frightened by this news, David calls Dr. Gorman and hears his worst fears, that the doctor did not send for the boy. David calls the police and Chief Backett arrives and sets in motion the police actions. An electrician sets up a separate phone line and a tape recorder. And the police set up a trace on the line waiting for a ransom demand over the phone. At this point a newspaper reporter named Charlie Telfer (played by a very young Leslie Nielsen) enters the house uninvited. The Chief counsels the Stannards to allow Telfer to stay during the investigation and so keep him from printing wild speculations by the promise of an exclusive story. Charlie proves himself to be a cynical young man who attempts to bribe Chapman to get some photos of Andy’s room. Chapman spurns the offer as an insult.
The parents become rattled from the waiting and now the school administrator shows up and complains that she is the wronged party by the kidnapping. Edith grabs for the fireplace poker and is only stopped by the police chief from braining her. After she is escorted out the phone rings and the kidnapper tells David what he wants, $500,000 in small bills and to show that the money is ready the television show which David’s company sponsors will be the signal. The host will wear a white suit jacket.
Now Al arranges for the money. It is being counted and serial numbers recorded. Now David talks to the Chief and Charlie about the exchange. But when David expresses the hope that Andy will be home by end of day the men crush his hopes by telling him that regardless of whether he pays the ransom or not the chance of return is the same, two out of three. And hearing this, David’s logical mind jumps to a conclusion. Now he goes to the television station and tells the host that the plan has changed and he, David will speak to the audience. He spreads the ransom money on a table and then tells the camera that he will not ransom his son. Instead he will use the $500,000 as a reward to anyone who will turn in the kidnappers. And to the kidnapper he adds that if Andy is returned unharmed then the reward will be rescinded and if the kidnapper happens to be captured David will act as a character witness on the kidnapper’s behalf because of the mercy shown his son. And then he finishes by swearing on a Bible that all he said would be observed.
But when David returns home, he is told by all, by the chief, by Al, by Charlie and most of all by Edith that he has done a terrible thing. She begs him to undo it and go back to the kidnappers and reverse himself. David tells them it is too late. For good or ill the die is cast. Edith breaks down and is taken to Al’s house down the street to mourn. A crowd that has assembled outside the home reacts to the news with rage and stones are thrown through the windows. Charlie goes outside and tells the reporters to go home and leave the family to its agony. Then the police disperse the angry crowd. Finally, Andy’s shirt is found in an abandoned car and delivered to his father. But there is a quantity of blood on the shirt. Now David despairs and breaks down in tears. The only one who has not deserted him in his lowest hour is Chapman who tries to comfort him and reminds him of King David’s grief at the death of his son Absalom. After he calms himself David goes into the yard and looks at the fort that Andy was building the other day. And as he stands there, he thinks he hears Andy calling him. And looking up he sees his son. Unable to believe his eyes he clasps Andy in his arms in joy but notices that Andy’s wearing a strange shirt. Andy explains that they gave it to him after he bit the nurse and her blood got on his shirt. Now the house is alerted. Chapman calls Al’s house to let Edith know the good news and the movie ends in front of the house with Edith running up and being embraced by her son and her husband embracing them both.
This is some serious melodrama. Every heartstring there is gets tugged. But the story works and the acting is good. Any parent watching this will feel every fear and experience the anxiety of such a daring plan by David to save his son. This is a good movie of its kind, a personal drama. I can recommend it. In the next part of this review, we’ll look at what forty years changes in the story as we look at the remake.