Janek (Eugeniusz Chylek) is a war orphan from Poland who now lives with a distant relative in Edinburgh, his aunt (Mona Washbourne) and her three children, but he is not made to feel at all welcome by his relatives, aside from his younger cousin Janet (Margaret McCourt) who shows him the only kindness. One day he is supposed to be looking after the baby in the pram when it gets away from him as a gang of kids set upon him for kicking their football, and he runs after it in a panic with a growing crowd pursuing - including his stern aunt. He manages to stop the pram before it tumbles down a flight of stairs, but the damage has been done; even though it wasn't his fault Jan is blamed.
Leaving the boy no option but to, er, leave, as this was one of the films from the Children's Film Foundation based around the concept of runaways, and one of their earliest entries. As ever, the foundation plucked a selection of youngsters from various schools to appear in their production, which would often be the sole acting role on their C.V. and a nice memory for the rest of their lives from the brief time they were a movie star - Chylek would never venture in front of the cameras again. Location filming was important to the company even at this stage, so Johnny on the Run was blessed with some impressive shots of the Scottish countryside for Jan to run through, but as often there was an "improving" theme to the proceedings.
Here that was to teach British children to be more accomodating towards any refugees who might arrive on these shores, as our sympathies are assuredly not meant to be with the bigots who give Jan a hard time - or Johnny, as he is not called often enough to justify the Anglicised title. Instead, we are shown that there are plenty of orphans who needed a helping hand, as in the second half Jan meets a whole village full of them in the Scottish Highlands, although he is still technically on the run as not only is his aunt looking for him but the police are too. Why's that? It's down to the rather Pinocchio-alike development in the first half where our hero falls in with a couple of criminals.
What two Cockney thieves were doing in Dundee goes unexplained, but there they are when Jan stows away in a lorry after consulting with a travel agent who also seems to sell garments, oddly, about how to return to Poland. Discovering there's a boat going there from the city further north, off he goes, but on arrival he is unlucky enough to cross paths with Harry (Sydney Tafler) and his sidekick Fingers (Michael Balfour) who are trying a break-in to steal a priceless brooch. Being too big to fit through the gap in the door, they recruit Jan who obliviously assists, until he twigs all is not right and scarpers, with Harry hot on his heels. One thing leads to another, and soon the boy has the brooch unwittingly hidden in his jacket while the ne'erdowells track him.
Later in the C.F.F. canon such baddies would end up falling into a pond or lake or river, some body of water, though this time we just see them struggle to negotiate a waterfall, as part of the scenery future James Bond director Lewis Gilbert was capitalising on to offer proceedings visual interest, a gambit which succeeded. After a while Jan is discovered by a group of orphans just like him, giving a multicultural appearance to the film with a selection of nationalities and accents - actress and future Rolling Stones compatriot Cleo Sylvestre had her debut role as one, making a good impression as one of the more angelic kids, although she had some competition as the whole community of orphans are real butter wouldn't melt in their mouths types. Still, Jan's travails are not over as all sorts of people are after him for various reasons, and it ends with a paper chase turned dramatic for the exciting finale - and yes, that is a character saying "It's a fair cop" when the game is up. Music by Antony Hopkins (no, not...).
[Johnny on the Run is released by the B.F.I. in one of their Children's Film Foundation DVDs entitled Runaways. It's part of a triple bill with Hide and Seek and Terry on the Fence and includes a booklet of informative essays.]