Kl Studio Classics // G // $29.95 // June 11, 2019
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted July 15, 2019
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Adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Kidnapped and portions of its sequel, this 1971 film version is a moderately effective period adventure, though its curious and cryptic backstory is more interesting than the movie itself.

Director Delbert Mann established himself as a major name with both the television and film versions of Marty. More acclaimed features followed, including Separate Tables (1958), but as the 1960s wore on, his career began a downward slide. He then turned to straightforward adaptations of classic literature, in partnership with actor James Franciscus, beginning with the TV-movie Heidi in 1968, for NBC. That film gained an unexpected notoriety when the nail-biting American football game between the Oakland Raiders and New York Jets ran long, and jammed phone lines from viewers demanding the movie be delayed blew out all of the network's switchboard fuses. Heads of the network were unable to pass along their instructions to delay the film, so Heidi aired as scheduled on the east coast, enraging fans who missed Oakland's incredible two-touchdown upset.

Heidi was exhibited theatrically in at least some parts of Europe, as were Mann's TV-movie follow-ups, adaptations of David Copperfield and Jane Eyre (both 1970). These prestigious shows attracted big-name stars like George C. Scott, Laurence Olivier, and Jean Simmons, which no doubt helped sell them as theatrical releases outside the U.S.

Both the IMDb and Wikipedia likewise claim Kidnapped was made for television as well, but that seems incorrect. The movie was shot in 2.35:1 Panavision, a format incompatible with TV's 4:3 ratio. (TV-movies intended for theatrical release abroad are generally shot open-matte and framed for both 4:3 televisions and 1.66:1 or 1.85:1 cropping.) Kidnapped might have originally been conceived as part of the aforementioned series of classic literature adaptations, but clearly targeted for the theatrical market.

Star Michael Caine, in his delightful autobiography What's It All About, describes the miserable shooting conditions in Scotland, and claimed he was never paid for the three months he spent making the picture. The film itself neither looks cheap nor terribly expensive by the standards of the time, perhaps in the $2 million range.

The film opens with the 1746 defeat of the Jacobites, mostly Scottish Highlanders, by British "Red Coats" at Culloden, a slaughter followed by the near-genocide of the Scots by the British, who stole property, burned down houses, and with impunity murdered men, women, and children.

In the midst of all this butchery, David Balfour, of the lowlander Shaw clan, arrives at the Scottish house of his father to claim his inheritance. He's met by conniving Uncle Ebenezer (Donald Pleasance) who, after failing to murder him, pays Captain Hoseason (Jack Hawkins, dubbed by Charles Gray) to have David kidnapped and sold into indentured servitude in the Carolinas.

Beginning their journey along the Scottish coast, the ship encounters a cobble manned by Alan Breck Stewart (Caine), newly returned to his homeland. When Hoseason and his crew threaten to steal Alan's heavy money belt, he and David, positioned in the roundhouse, manage to ward off the murderous crew. But the ship runs aground, forcing the pair to try and make their way across the heather to Edinburgh on foot. The Redcoats on the tail, they arrive at the home of James Stewart (Jack Watson), where he is accused of shooting Mungo Campbell (Terry Richards). Stewart's daughter, Catriona (Vivien Heilbron) joins Alen and David on their journey, hoping to prevent her father's hanging.

One of the many problems with Kidnapped is the casting, most obviously cockney Michael Caine as a Scottish Highlander. His performance is actually quite good, as he almost always is, even in bad movies unworthy of his great talent, but it's still an unavoidable distraction, Caine suppressing his signature accent for a slight Scottish one. (Caine's longtime pal Sean Connery, for one, would have been a better choice.) Actors like Trevor Howard (as the Scottish-born Lord Advocate), Donald Pleasance, Freddie Jones (as fugitive Cluny MacPherson), Jack Watson and others all do fine work, but the Scottish flavor so vital to the story would have been better served with real Scots in all the key parts.

The Scottish actors generally come off better. Lawrence Douglas is wonderful as David, projecting a beguiling, Billy Budd-like innocence that makes his character quite memorable. Vivien Heilbron is appropriately fetching as the raven-haired Catriona, and Gordon Jackson, the emblematic Scot of 60s-70s British cinema and television, is delightful as James Stewart's nerve-stricken advocate.

Like Stevenson's Treasure Island, the story has its hero, David, encountering one colorful character after another, and in the end they overcome the deficiencies of the casting and the modest, but not inadequate budget. The use of real Scottish locations, supported by authentic looking studio interiors and excellent costume designs (and wigs, of which there are plenty) help the film's verisimilitude.

Video & Audio

Kino's Blu-ray of Kidnapped looks okay, not great. The image is a tad on the soft and dark side, though the latter is perhaps as much the result of the cloud-covered locations as anything else. The film's picture ends abruptly, giving way to about 45 seconds of exit music over black. The 2.0 (mono) DTS-HD Master Audio is fine, and optional English subtitles are provided. No Extra Features save trailers for other Michael Caine movies under license to Kino.

Parting Thoughts

Not bad, not especially good, Kidnapped is unexceptional but moderately engrossing. The performances are mostly good, even those by English actors affecting Scottish accents. The basic story is so strong, the really great film of this novel has yet to be made. Recommended.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian currently restoring a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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