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Having previously made a film adaptation based on a novel by Robert Louis Stevenson, it wasn’t long after for the Disney Studios to try it again. This brings us to the little-known 1960 film, Kidnapped!
Is this a hidden gem or should this film be forgotten? Read on to find out what I think!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The film takes place in 18th century Scotland and mainly stars James MacArthur as a young David Balfour. His father has recently passed away and while mourning, David receives a letter from his local churchman that was written by his father. In the letter, David’s father informs David to travel to an estate known as the “House of Shaws” as that is where he comes from.
As this news proves surprising to David, he heads out on a journey to the said manor. Upon arriving, he sees that the “House of Shaws” is a run-down, dilapidated place feared by the locals and said to have been “built by blood, stopped being built by blood, and will be brought down by blood”.
David seeks entrance at the door and is met by a blunderbuss being directed at his face by an old man, Ebenezer Balfour, played by John Laurie.
Ebenezer doesn’t seem happy to see David, but welcomes him in. David tells Ebenezer who he is and shows him the letter and soon learns that Ebenezer is his father’s brother. Ebenezer allows David to spend the night and promises that he’ll tell David the whole truth about his family history in due time.
The following night, after being prodded for an explanation as to what this all is about, Ebenezer sends David up a flight of stairs to locate some papers in a chest that will apparently inform him of the whole situation. As the staircase is unlit, David is unable to see as he ascends, and almost falls to his death when the top of the staircase leads outdoors.
Ebenezer is pleased with himself for “killing off” David, but gets the shock of his life when David descends back down the stairs, very much alive and angrier! Ebenezer feigns a heart condition and promises to tell David the whole truth the next day. David reluctantly agrees, but is now aware that Ebenezer is a man to be careful of.
Early the next morning, a letter arrives for Ebenezer from a Captain Hoseason. Ebenezer explains to David that he has a sort of business venture with the Captain and that the Captain has called him down to the local inn to discuss some business matters. David, of course, doesn’t care about this and wants to know why Ebenezer tried to kill him last night. Ebenezer coaxes David into going along with him to the inn first because afterwards they’ll meet with the family lawyer, Mr. Rankeillor, who knew David’s father. That way, David can question the lawyer and more probably believe his story than anything Ebenezer would say.
David agrees and heads to the inn with Ebenezer. While waiting for Ebenezer there, David hears rumors from the locals that Ebenezer apparently killed David’s father years ago to become the lord of the House of Shaws as it rightfully belonged to David’s father as he was the elder brother. David, of course, knows that this isn’t true, but it makes him realize just how evil a man Ebenezer apparently is.
As Ebenezer is getting ready to leave, Captain Hoseason, played by Bernard Lee, invites David to come aboard his ship which is in the harbor. As they have some time before meeting the lawyer, David agrees and is excited to go aboard. However when David gets on board the ship, he soon realizes that he’s just been kidnapped!
Yep, Ebenezer secretly made a deal with Captain Hoseason to kidnap David and sell him as an indentured laborer somewhere along their journey. David tries fighting back the crew as the ship sets sail, but it’s to no avail.
Later that night, the ship crashes into a small fishing boat that was masked by fog. All the men aboard the fishing boat were killed except for one survivor who jumped aboard Captain Hoseason’s ship in time.
This man happens to be Alan Breck Stewart, played by Peter Finch. Alan Breck Stewart happens to be a Scottish Jacobite who was being given a lift by some of the local fisherman. Now, what is a Jacobite, you may ask. As best as I can make it out, the Jacobites were people who wanted the kingdom of Great Britain (at the time) to go back under the rule of King James II rather than the current king, George.
Captain Hoseason is a proud “Whig”, i.e. King George supporter, but after seeing that Alan has money, Captain Hoseason allows Alan to travel aboard his ship while secretly planning to kill him when given the chance.
When David discovers Captain Hoseason’s plan, he warns Alan privately. Alan appreciates David’s assistance and together, the two of them take weapons in the cabin and fight off Captain Hoseason and his crew. Alan and David emerge victorious with the rest of the men being kept below.
The next day David tells Alan his story of how he came aboard the ship and the two soon bond like brothers despite having quite different political ideologies. Alan gets Captain Hoseason to drop the two of them off at the Scottish coast, but due to treacherous waters, the ship capsizes.
David awakes on the rocky coast the next day and it’s presumed that all the men on board have died in the crash. After almost being killed by a Gaelic-speaking Highlander wanting to rob him of his money, David soon finds a ferryman who takes him to the Scottish mainland. The ferryman sees that David has a silver button given to him by Alan and informs David that Alan is indeed alive and will meet up with him as soon as he can in the town of Appin.
Apparently, there is a man in town called Colin Roy Cambell, aka the Red Fox, played by Andrew Cruickshank. The Red Fox has been sent to this area with a few soldiers to fight the rising surge of Jacobites that thrive in this area. As luck would have it, David bumps into the Red Fox on his journey. The Red Fox inquires as to where David is going and where his loyalties lie, but a shot from the nearby forest renders him dead.
The soldiers assume that David is a Jacobite distraction and go after him. As David runs from the soldiers into the forest, he bumps into Alan and the two of them manage to escape. David is under the impression that Alan is the one who killed the Red Fox, but Alan denies this, although he may have knowledge as to who it was that killed the Red Fox. Whatever the case, Alan is a man on the run and by association, David is too.
The two continue to hide from the soldiers by seeking protection from fellow Jacobite Scottish clansmen in the area. There is even an odd “bagpipes-playing duel” that happens later in the film between Alan and a Robin MacGregor, played by a young Peter O’Toole, in his feature film debut.
In the end, Alan and David manage to leave Appin and go back to the area where David came from. David immediately heads to the family lawyer, Mr. Rankeillor, played by Miles Malleson, and finally learns the truth about his uncle. It seems that Ebenezer and David’s father both fell in love with the same woman, but the woman chose David’s father instead. David’s father then waived his right to the House of Shaws to Ebenezer. But now that he has died, the right is inherited by David and Ebenezer doesn’t have any right to being the lord of that estate.
However, getting Ebenezer to admit all of this proves to be a tricky business. You see, a lawsuit is way too scandalous and expensive, so the only way for David to get back ownership of the estate is for Ebenezer to admit this truth along with the truth of how he had David kidnapped in front of witnesses. David enlists the help of Alan for this. Alan, using his firm nature and persuasive speech, gets Ebenezer to spill the beans to him while David and Mr. Rankeillor listen from a nearby bush. Once Ebenezer is aware of what has happened, he realizes that the game is up.
David takes over as the lord of the House of Shaws and he and Alan part ways as friends. Alan promises that they will meet again once this whole Appin murder business has died down and he doesn’t need to hide anymore.
And that was Kidnapped! Is it a hidden gem? Honestly, it kinda is. A good way to describe this film is that it’s a more mature Treasure Island. There are so many themes in the film. David, having been brought up very Christian-like has to deal with the more despicable nature of mankind as seen in the greed and/or violence of Ebenezer, Captain Hoseason, the Gaelic-speaking man, and Alan. When David kills a man in the ship brawl, he breaks down crying as Alan empathizes by saying how he felt the same way when he killed for the first time.
The film, like the novel it’s based on, also features elements of history. Alan Breck Stewart was a real figure and the Appin murder of the Red Fox was a real event that occurred during this era of Jacobite rising. The acting of the film is pretty spectacular by all and many of the backgrounds are aesthetically pleasing to look at.
In terms of faults, the movie can get a bit confusing if you don’t pay attention or are not totally familiar with the book or historical events. Much of what I relayed in this review of the historical events had to be further researched by me rather than drawn only from the film.
Also, there are many scenes that seem to go by really quickly. For example, aboard the ship is a young boy who is always abused by a violent crew member and states that he will kill him one day. Literally a few minutes later, the crew member kills the boy. Also, the Red Fox is briefly shown for a couple of minutes before getting killed. I feel both of these scenes could have been padded out a bit more so we could feel the emotional impact of them much more.
But all in all, I do think this film is definitely worth a viewing. If you haven’t seen it already, go check it out!
So, the final score for this film is 31/35 = 88.57% (B+) !
The next review will be posted on June 12, 2018.