Cast & Crew
James B. Clark
Johan De Slaa
Ten-year-old Jan and Malaysian eleven-year-old Adinda, who were both orphaned during World War II, are walking home to their foster parents one day when they rescue a dog from an old man. While stern Mother Grijpma, the children's foster mother, refuses to accept the new animal, Father Grijpma, the pastor of the small Dutch village of Niewerland, allows the children to keep the dog. Naming him Bussy, they secretly house the dog with their other pets, Ko the rabbit and Noisette the cat, in the church belfry. One night soon after, when a severe wind storm causes floods that threaten the dikes, Officer Peiters asks Father Grijpma to ring the church bells to warn the villagers. Rushing the children to the belfry, Father Grijpma orders them to ring the bells, then promises to return with Mother Grijpma. Still alone hours later, the children fall asleep huddled with their pets, as the storm winds howl outside. The next morning, Adinda and Jan look out the belfry window onto their village, which is immersed in rising waters. While Adinda cries that all the villagers are dead, proud Jan refuses to believe her until they see Mother Grijpma's corpse floating by. Noticing that an abandoned houseboat has moored to the church, the children climb over the roof tiles with their pets, including Prince the rooster, onto the boat, where they feast on milk and bread. That night, the boat unmoors itself, leaving the children adrift at sea with little hope that Father Grijpma might find them. The next day, a fishing captain from the coastal area of Urk boards the houseboat looking for survivors and, finding the children, gruffly orders them and their pets aboard his boat. Although they fear that the Captain is a pirate, the ship's cook fixes them a hot meal and gently tucks the children into bed. After the Captain finds the last of the survivors in the area, he orders the ship to move to search elsewhere, causing the children to assume that they will never see Father Grijpma again. The next day, softened by the children's fear, the Captain tells them a story about another flood in which survivors' hearts were lightened after seeing a cat save a baby by keeping its cradle afloat. He then leads the children in a fantastical song. Days later, after rescuing a dozen more grateful survivors, the Captain decides to return to Amsterdam for food and medical attention, assuring the children that the hospital boats will have lists of missing persons to aid them in finding Father Grijpma. That night the Captain tells the children a fairy tale: Sailor Jan promises his lover that upon returning from his next voyage, they will be married. When his boat is later reported missing, the lover waits patiently for a year believing that Jan will come home. After she asks many returning sailors for news of Jan's ship, one mysterious captain offers to take her to him, but only if she will give him her soul. After she agrees, the captain turns her into a mermaid. Swimming through sunken ships and villages searching for her Jan, the mermaid finally meets an old wise man and learns that in trade for her soul Jan has finally been able to return home. Trapped in the sea forever, the mermaid spends her time singing warnings to sailors of oncoming storms. The morning after the Captain finishes his story, his boat arrives at the Amsterdam port, where naval officers reprimand the Captain for not following protocol. After the Captain rudely rebuffs them, he explains to the children that the frustrated Navy can only bark out orders to other ships, because its own ships displace too much water to enter the flooded areas and save people. Meanwhile, the children want to remain onboard and make the Captain their new father, but he insists that they go to a hospital ship. Boarded with the radio operator Sparks, Adinda and Jan are forlorn over the loss of the Captain, but Miss Winter, a nurse, comforts them with imaginary spells. Late that night, Jan overhears the adults' plans to send Jan and Adinda to an orphanage and send a rescue ship to Niewerland, manned by Captain Tandema. The next day, the children stow away with their pets in empty coffins being loaded onto the rescue ship. Soon after the ship embarks, Bussy's howls and Prince's crowing alert Sparks and Miss Winter that the children are aboard, but the ship must continue on its course to Niewerland. After hearing in the village that Father Grijpma left on a fishing boat the previous night, the children then see the Captain, who tells Tandema that he feels responsible for the children and will take them with him. Hearing that a grief-crazed farmer and his son are trapped in their barn attic, the Captain offers to rescue them. The Captain and Cook row to the barn with Adinda and Jan, whose kind words convince the boy and his father to join them. When the mute and fearful farmer refuses to leave the row boat, Cook stays with him as the Captain tows the boat behind his into a harbor. Once there, photographers, greedy for a story about the "crazy" farmer, blind him with their flashbulbs. In a state of shock, the farmer stabs the Cook with his pitchfork, killing him. Sobered by the tragedy and the arrival of "professionals," the Captain decides to retire from the rescue mission and return to the children's village in the hope of finding their father. Arriving at the village, the children hear their father's organ and rush to the dilapidated church, where Father Grijpma gladly embraces them. As a group of singing children march by to school, the Captain bids farewell, promising to return and visit Adinda and Jan.
James B. Clark
Johan De Slaa
Lo Van Hensbergen
Heleen Van Meurs
Manfred De Graff
Colin M. Brewer
Fred A. Chulack
Ate De Vries
Robert B. Radnitz
Cor H. C. Roodhart
Martin Van Dalen
Ton Van Den Heurel
Jos Van Weeven
The film opens with a written prologue introducing the story about two children who survived the 1953 North Sea Flood that broke over the dikes on the southwestern coast of The Netherlands. Subsequent to the North Sea Flood, which killed over 1,800 people, the Dutch government implemented the Delta Plan, which included the construction of ten dams, including the five-mile-wide East Schelde estuary, which also acts as a storm-surge barrier. In addition, several bridges were built and dikes were strengthened to prevent further disasters.
Author January de Hartog was a volunteer during rescue operations following the 1953 disaster. Hartog then wrote the novel The Little Ark based on his experiences. The character of "The Captain" refers to himself throughout the film as an "Urker," a resident from the ancient municipality of Urk on The Netherlands' southwest coast, famous for its fishing industry. As noted onscreen, The Little Ark was shot entirely in The Netherlands. Hollywood Reporter production charts listed Amsterdam as the principal location.
An animation sequence narrated by Theodore Bikel as the character The Captain depicts a children's bedtime story about a young woman pining for her lost sailor. In the closing credits special thanks is given to several individuals and organizations including the Air Service of the Royal Netherlands Navy, Cinetone Studios, the Amsterdam Police and the people of Holland.
Robert Radnitz, a producer of children's films, acquired the rights to de Hartog's novel in 1962, according to a January 24, 1962 Hollywood Reporter news item. A May 2, 1962 Variety article noted that Radnitz had signed British director Philip Leacock and planned to shoot the picture in 1963, but the production was delayed. On February 28, 1968, Variety reported that Radnitz had signed Joanna Crawford to write the script and made a production agreement with CBS Theatrical Films. According to a February 21, 1969 Daily Variety article, Cinema Center Films, a subsidiary of CBS, became the production company, which would soon have a final script. By April 1970, several news items noted that Radnitz had hired director James B. Clark, with whom he had collaborated on several previous films including the 1960 A Dog of Flanders (see entry above) and the 1969 My Side of the Mountain , both of which also starred Bikel.
A February 3, 1971 Variety article stated that the production on The Little Ark encountered difficulties not only shooting on the water and in boats, but also with children and live animals. All the actors in the film, with the exception of Bikel, Genevieve Ambas and Philip Frame, were Dutch. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song for "Follow, Follow Me."
Released in United States Spring March 1972
Based on the Jan de Hartog novel "The Little Ark" (New York, 1953).
Released in United States Spring March 1972