Cinema Sweetheart's Rating: 7 out of 10
Director: Delbert Mann
Starring: Michael Caine, Lawrence Douglas, Vivien Heilbron
Genre: Drama, Historical, Adventure
Runtime: 100 minutes
Other Versions: Kidnapped (1938) (1948) (1952) (1956) (1960) (1963) (1978) (1986) (1995) (2005), Schusse unterm Galgen (1970)
Based off of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novels Kidnapped and Catriona/David Balfour, Kidnapped is a story of revenge, adventure, and patriotism. When David Balfour (Douglas) (following the death of his father three years previously) goes to his uncle Ebenezer (Donald Pleasence) for his inheritance, he gets far more than he bargained for, including a murder attempt and being sold into slavery by his uncle. While on a ship heading to the Carolinas, he makes the acquaintance of Scottish revolutionary and rebel Alan Breck (Caine) and warns him of the captain’s plan to rob and possibly murder him. After fighting off the corrupt crew, the two form a fast friendship that continues from the ship to the Scottish highlands, where they are on the run from the British soldiers who want Alan dead. Complications arise, however, and soon they are not only trying to keep themselves out of prison (or worse: the gallows), but they also have to clear the name of Alan’s kinsman James Stewart (Jack Watson) who is to hang for a murder that Alan committed.
I first became interested in the story of Kidnapped when my friend Sarah gave me a copy of the book, which I loved. So, when Sarah mentioned that there were several movies, my interest was piqued. When she mentioned that the 1971 version starred Michael Caine as the dashing Alan Breck, I couldn’t resist. After weeks of trying to get our schedules to work, we were finally able to watch this allusive film. And….it was pretty bad. I’m not going to lie; this film was kinda dreadful. But, I still gave it 7 out of 10 for a very important reason; it was one of those films that is so bad that it’s good. Unlike many of my fellow film critics, I don’t review films strictly based off of how good it was as a film. For example, I don’t solely focus on the cinematography or the sets, acting, or screenplay. I tend to focus more on how the film made me feel in general; on how my overall viewing experience was. That’s because I hope that the people who read Cinema Sweetheart aren’t just looking for films that are “cinematographically” perfect, but rather films that are enjoyable to watch.
There are so many things I could say about this film. The screenplay, for example, seemed to jump all over the place. If you’ve not read Kidnapped or Catriona, you’re bound to be confused for quite a bit of the movie. (I’ve only read Kidnapped, so I was confused for a lot of it, myself!) Everything seems to jump around. Large pieces of Kidnapped are removed, and are replaced with wonderful selections of awkward starring, awkward touching, and awkward camera angles that pan in on faces with blank or awkward expressions. Oh, and don’t forget awkward phrases that can be construed as something very different, like when Alan commands David to quickly “rub” himself. Furthermore, the entire timeline from Stevenson’s novels seems to be altered in a very unusual way. David’s story begins years earlier than it was supposed to, and yet, scenes from the second book are inserted into the plot of the first as though they were always there. This includes characters like James Stewart and his daughter Catriona (Heilbron), who don’t come into play until the second novel. The whole beginning is sped through at mach-10, and the ending leaves the audience confused and a bit dissatisfied.
The characters were hilarious. Michael Caine’s adaptation of Alan was very different from the version in the books. First, he had a ridiculous hair style that curled at the edges. How he managed to keep his hair looking foppish and undisturbed for the entirety of the film is beyond me. Plus, he lacked his characteristic blue jacket, and wore an interesting number done in brown plaid. Everything matched. He was also far more serious than the character in the book. Stevenson’s Alan is short, pock-marked, unattractive, and vain (almost comically so). Caine’s Alan was tall, handsome, regal, and proud, with a serious, purposeful air about him for the entire film. His Scottish accent, however, left much to be desired. Even though Caine is British, he almost sounded like an American trying to pull off a really bad Scottish accent, although I will say that it got better as the film progressed. Speaking of which, Vivien Heilbron also had an accent worth mentioning. When she is first introduced, it was impossible to detect a Scottish accent at all. But, by the end, she had a pretty decent one. How does that make any sense? You either have an accent or you don’t. You don’t go from sounding like an American to sounding like a Scott over the course of a couple of weeks, especially if you’re born in Scotland to Scottish parents in a Scottish highlands clan!
I also found David to be very funny. First of all, he had the most interesting hair style, with a silly little ponytail that was impossible to identify for most of the film. Was it a bun? Was it a random clump of hair? Was it a ponytail? Yes it was! Plus, he goes from clueless, slightly stupid youth to an intense rebel, determined to do everything in his power to see James Stewart cleared of the murder charges against him. What makes this humorous is just how dedicated he is. In fact, he’s more interested in saving James than James’s cousin (Alan) and daughter (Catriona) are! Why? I honestly have no idea!
Despite all its faults, there is one thing that the movie had going for it. The scenery was absolutely beautiful. Filmed on location in Scotland, it was easy to see just why Alan was willing to die for his country. It was gorgeous. I’m sure that Scotland has become more urbanized since 1971, but I would still love to travel there someday, just to get a glimpse of the scenes I saw in this movie.
There was one other thing that worked to this film’s benefit: it was funny. Even when it wasn’t meant to be funny, it was funny. Sarah and I could not help laughing at all the awkward close-ups, starring, expressions, wtf moments, and dialogue. Sometimes, the best movies are those that are so bad that they are good. Those are the ones that make you laugh out loud, and are the ones that friends tend to talk about for a long time afterwards (well, at least my friends and I do). These are the ones you reach for on a rainy day or on a late sleepless night, simply because you know you’re going to enjoy the experience.
This is a good movie for anyone who has read Kidnapped and Catriona, and is looking for an interesting (albeit confusing) film adaptation. It’s also good for anyone who doesn’t always need to take their film viewing too seriously, or for anyone who enjoys watching films that are (as Sarah's dad so eloquently put it) "not great cinema".