Kidnapped Review

If the 1971 version of Kidnapped is remembered at all, it’s probably as the film for which Michael Caine was never properly paid. This is relatively unusual in Caine’s career, especially when you compare him to his fellow knight Sean Connery whose litigious relationship with producers and studios has become legendary. But Omnibus Productions rushed Kidnapped into production before they had all the money and the result was that the cash ran out and Caine – along with some of the other cast members – waived their salaries in order to ensure that the crew were paid.

Given these circumstances, it would be nice if one could report that Kidnapped was a triumphant vindication of its producers determination, against all rational sense, to get it made. But sadly it’s something of a mess. The novel, published in 1886, was a huge hit at the time and certainly contributed to the Victorian tendency to romanticise Scotland into a sentimental melange of tartan and bagpipes. Robert Louis Stevenson’s original concentrates on one David Balfour (Douglas) who, in the aftermath of the disastrous 1745 Jacobite Rebellion, goes to claim his inheritance only to be sold into slavery by his Uncle Ebeneezer (Pleasance). He escapes from the ship bound for America with the assistance of Alan Breck Stewart (Caine), a confirmed Jacobite and supporter of the Stuart claim to the throne. The rest of the novel concentrates on the pair’s attempts to evade capture by the British army and the Scottish collaborators, the Campbells.

Jack Pulman’s screenplay for the film also adds some elements from Stevenson’s 1891 sequel ‘Catriona’ in order to provide David with a love interest in the form of Alan’s cousin, Catriona (Heilbron). Pulman also includes the trumped-up charges against Catriona’s father James Stewart in order to provide Alan with a final bit of romantic heroism which isn’t in the book. This causes three major problems. Firstly, it means that there is far too much plot to get through in the space of a hundred minutes. Secondly, it gives excessive screen time to the young ingénues playing the romantic leads, neither of whom gives a particularly convincing performance – Lawrence Douglas, as Alan, looks like he’s in pain all the time and doesn’t seem to understand the meaning of the word ‘inflection’. Thirdly, and fatally, it unbalances the pacing of the film so that the exciting scenes are all crammed into the first hour while the final act is a succession of not especially compelling dialogue scenes which were obviously filmed cheaply on sets which have seen better days – and no doubt saw service in a score of other movies.

Delbert Mann does pretty well with the swordfights and rough stuff and his staging of a fight on board ship is masterly. But when he gets a dialogue scene, he plays it in a two-shot with little camera movement and the result is paralysing boredom. Clearly realising that he can’t possibly cram in the whole of the story, he resorts, during the last fifteen minutes, to narrative confusion and a multitude of hanging threads.

So, is there anything to salvage from Kidnapped? Well, the cinematography by Paul Beeson is very easy on the eye but that’s largely because of his natural advantage in having the chance to shoot on location in Mull, Fife, Argyll and Stirling. Much of the film looks like a highly effective advertisement for the Scottish Tourist Board – or at least it would do, were that august body not currently pretending that Scotland is the Ibiza of the North – “Live it! Visit Scotland!” I’ll also put in a good word for Roy Budd’s pounding music score which isn’t too heavy on the pipes and manages to build a certain momentum, especially in the flabby second half.

But it’s mostly the performances which make the film worth a look. Given that the film treats the English like 18th Century Nazis, some good actors like Trevor Howard and Geoffrey Whitehead manage to salvage a measure of dignity. Jack Hawkins certainly looks the part but once you realise that, through no fault of his own, he’s being dubbed by Charles Gray, the effect is distracting and you expect Gray himself to appear at any moment. There’s also great fun to be had from Donald Pleasance, adopting an idiotic accent and behaving like an inmate of Bedlam. Best of all, however, is Michael Caine, and I say that in the full knowledge that his Scottish accent alternates between ludicrous and barely noticeable. Once you accept this, his noble bearing and nimble swordsmanship are totally convincing and he manages to make you swallow some truly unspeakable guff about the decidedly dubious nature of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Stuart claim to the throne. It’s an example of thorough professionalism, one which holds the film together and one for which he deserved to not only get paid, but make a fortune.

The Disc

This is a Network release and, as usual, the company have put some effort into the extras. The result is a disc which has some praiseworthy features.

The film is presented in 2.35:1 and has been anamorphically enhanced. The problem with the image comes from the frequent artifacting. These are sometimes very distracting. The strength of the transfer is the colours which are sometimes beautifully rich and always accurate. On the whole, the image is just about acceptable. The mono soundtrack, on the other hand, is excellent with a fine balance between music and dialogue. There is a brief audio dropout about an hour in but this could be a problem with the check disc.

The extras are the best thing on the DVD. Along with a short image gallery and the original trailer – which, as you’d expect, makes the film look much more exciting than it is – we get some wonderful archive materials. There’s a contemporary production featurette which features lots of nice views of Argyll with Delbert Mann being terribly important and Lawrence Douglas demonstrating that he’s no more convincing when asked to be himself than he is when he’s acting.

Most valuable are three archive TV interviews featuring Michael Caine; two with Russell Harty from 1972 and 1977 and one with Gloria Hunniford from 1984. These are all fascinating for the ways in which Caine both reveals himself and throws up his guard. In particular, he’s absolutely obsessed with the British class system, a subject which comes up in a number of contexts. The first interview with Harty is the lengthiest and deals largely with the making of Sleuth which was just about the be released. Caine is quite relaxed here, as he is in the later interview with Goria Hunniford which is mostly a plug for Educating Rita. But the second interview, the shortest, is interesting because Harty becomes combative and you can see Caine’s hackles rising. These sort of interviews are like gold for fans of the star and one of the reasons that I’m such an admirer of Network’s DVD releases.

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Last updated: 20/06/2018 12:45:03

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