I've been interested in seeing Kidnapped
(1971) for quite some time because I quite like Michael Caine, and he plays Alan Breck Stewart in this version, and I love Alan Breck Stewart.
As reasons to watch a movie go, an actor you enjoy playing a character you love is a pretty good reason, if you ask me. And, happily, Michael Caine did not disappoint me. He was as mercurial, good-hearted, and brave an Alan Breck as you could possibly want. And he was never, ever boring, of course -- I'm pretty sure Michael Caine is incapable of turning in a boring performance.
Kidnapped is about a young man, David Balfour (Lawrence Douglas) who ought to inherit some sizeable property when his father dies, but his miserly Uncle Ebenezer Balfour (Donald Pleasance) has him kidnapped by the cunning Captain Hoseason (Jack Hawkins) and shipped off to be sold as a slave in the Carolinas.
Of course, David Balfour doesn't stay kidnapped. He escapes with the help of Alan Breck Stewart (Michael Caine), a Highlander who took part in the Jacobite Revolution. You see, the book is set in 1752, in Scotland, and the British and Scottish people are still going at each other in the fiercest way. The massacre at Culloden Moor in 1746 was very recent memory, and yeah... lots of violence was happening, let's say that.
Alan Breck is on his way back to France to bring much-needed money to the Jacobites in exile there. David Balfour is a Lowland Scotsman and just wants to get back to the property his uncle is bilking him out of. They form an unlikely friendship, one a fierce and fiery rebel and the other a calm and naïve boy, and they stick together through thick and thin. Including through one very sticky situation where an enemy of Breck's, one Colin Campbell, gets assassinated from ambush. The murder is pinned on James of the Glens (Jack Watson), and he's arrested and bound to be hanged for it.
David Balfour happens to know that James of the Glens is innocent because he was standing right by James of the Glens when the murder happened, and James obviously didn't do it. But nobody wants David to give this testimony in court because of reasons, especially not the Lord Advocate (Trevor Howard) who is convinced that hanging James will cure the Highlanders of their foolish rebellion once and for all.
Okay, so, that's a pretty fair rundown of the story. It's all based on the books Kidnapped
and David Balfour
aka David and Catriona
) by Robert Louis Stevenson. And Stevenson based a big chunk of the book around real events. Because Colin Campbell, James of the Glens/James Stewart (NOT the actor), and Alan Breck Stewart were all real people. Colin Campbell really did get killed, in what's called the Appin Murder
. James of the Glens really was arrested and hanged for it even though he was very obviously innocent. And Alan Breck really was suspected of being the actual killer. But Breck was never captured, even though he was convicted in absentia
and sentenced to death. Nobody actually knows what happened to him.
SPOILERS IN THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHs.
Well, this movie decides to make up an ending for him. Unlike in David Balfour, where he eventually escapes back to France, this movie decides to give him a very different character arc from the books. In this movie, Alan Breck actually did assassinate Colin Campbell, and he goes to the authorities in Edinburgh and gives himself up to try to free James of the Glens. Because James has a pretty daughter named Catriona (Vivien Heilbron) who is in love with David Balfour, and Alan Breck decides he's had enough of war and death and running and hiding, or something.
Which I guess is a pretty cool character arc, even if it springs up very suddenly in the last 3 minutes of the movie. And even if it has absolutely no basis in historical fact whatsoever. I mean, we're just supposed to assume that this works, and James of the Glens goes free, and Catriona gets her dad back, and... and that is NOT what happened! James was hung! You can't just rewrite history because you suddenly wish you were making a movie of A Tale of Two Cities instead of Kidnapped and decided Alan Breck should have a "far, far better thing I do" moment. Dude.
I mean... if you want to change the ending of a piece of fiction, okay, that happens. But this is based on history, y'all. You can't just decide to ditch history 'cuz you feel like it. Sigh.
That wee issue aside, I did enjoy the movie, especially the performances by Michael Caine, Donald Pleasance, and Terence Howard. Donald Pleasance was particularly weaselly as Ebenezer Balfour, miserly and conniving to the last -- his final words before he died made me laugh aloud.
And Terence Howard really excels at playing characters who are so painfully bored by whatever is going on around them. His dry delivery always amuses me.
I'm afraid Lawrence Douglas left me bored, which is a shame since David Balfour is the hero of the book, but this movie version is more the Alan Breck Show than anything, so I guess I didn't mind so much.
He had a very good droopy look that would be very effective at a graveside, except we didn't really have any gravesides for him to use it at. Vivien Heilbron's Catriona was way more interesting than his David Balfour.
Jack Hawkins wasn't in great health at this point in his life, so his scenes are pretty short and his voice was dubbed. Which made me sad because I like him so much in things like Ben-Hur (1959) and The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).
Jack Watson, on the other hand, was a stand-out -- I started making up stories about his James of the Glens whenever he was on screen because he was absolutely fascinating! I just couldn't seem to stop my imagination from spooling out little imaginary scenarios for him.
Especially during the powerful scene where he's in prison and says goodbye to his daughter Catriona. I felt things, I tell you. I've seen Watson in a couple other things, but never really took much notice of him. I'll be keeping an eye out for him from now on, though.
Is this movie family friendly? Pretty much. There's some very obviously fake violence, memories of battle scenes with a lot of stabbing but not too much blood, and some mild cussing. No nudity or sexual situations (though David and Catriona do sleep next to each other in a cave at one point, but they are not alone in the cave and no extramarital activity is implied). For a '70s movie, it's remarkably clean, really.