Thursday 20 May 2010

Icon #53 The Child Catcher

The most iconic movie villain.
He scared the crap out of me when I was a kid.  He scared the crap out of a bunch of you when you were kids.  Suggestions came from all directions, some left field, some more in the vein of my usual icon entries.  Darth Vader?  So tempted.  But then I'd have to tell you my carnival story.  The Joker?  Again, tempted, but despite the obvious Ledger link it was almost too obvious.  Plus for me Joker is a comic book character first and it'd be hard to choose between Ledger's Joker and Nicholson's.

The Child Catcher is of course from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, which sounds a bit like the title of a Russ Meyer movie I may have once watched.  The Child Catcher is brought to spindly life by Robert Helpmann, a ballet dancer from Australia.  There's just something indescribably creepy about him.  The prosthetic nose, so adept at tracking down children in the brilliantly titled land of Vulgaria where children have been outlawed.

The film is bonkers, based on an Ian Fleming's book, about Chitty Chitty Bang Bang the magical car.  It's pure fantasy, the Child Catcher was added in by Roald Dahl, who wrote the screenplay for the movie.

Helpmann brings him to life, prosthetic nose and all.  There's something primal about the fear he induces in kids from one generation to the next.  The thought of being taken from your parents by a creepy old man is bad enough, but when he looks like this, it's the kind of fear that makes your stomach knot and a bead or two of sweat appear on your brow.

Watch it back as an adult and the only thing that really strikes you is, 'Bloody hell, that's Benny Hill as the Toy maker!'  It totally loses the impact that it has when your a child.  Maybe that makes the Child Catcher less of an icon but for me he just taps into something so much less obvious than a scarred face or killing and eating people.  It's a fear that we all remember as a kid.  That never talk to strangers or wander off thing.  There's really never been a better advert for that than The Child Catcher.

He's must have been the reason for thousands of nightmares and millions of children laying in bed at night, wide awake, staring at the darkness, hoping The Child Catcher isn't going to steal them away from Mum and Dad.
'Come along, kiddie winkies!'
Tonight's post is dedicated to (from twitter) @DavieLegend, @roOkin (and via facebook) Will, @moviegrrl and Martin H.


  1. I could write a whole mini-blog over what I would constitute as a good villain, but I am not here to get into an arguement which I would enjoy having face to face with beer in hand!

    I will simply say two things: One, that to my standards, the Childcatcher is a villain on par with the Sheriff of Nottingham. Two; Prosthetic nose, penchant for going after kiddies, uses fairground ruse to capture children? NO Jacko reference at all? Shame on you!

  2. Helpmann is very creepy, also, in Powell & Pressburger's The Tales of Hoffmann, one of the most bonkers British films ever. If you haven't see it - it's a film of Offenbach's opera, featuring a dancing doll which gets its head severed, a Venetian courtesan in thrall to the Devil, candle wax which turns into jewels etc

  3. haha, Agree 100%. The Child Catcher freaked me out as a kid, and is one person who STILL creates weird feelings in my tummy, when I watch him prancing along in colorful clothes to steal the kids when the parents are away. Sneaking little thing.

    And Chitty is probably one of my best all time movies, just saw it two days ago....again!