Thursday, November 23, 2006

Films of Michael Caine #18: Kidnapped

Cast: Michael Caine (Alan Breck), Lawrence Douglas (David Balfour), Vivien Heilbron (Catriona Stewart), Trevor Howard (Lord Advocate), Jack Hawkins (Captain Hoseason), Donald Pleasance (Ebenezer Balfour), Gordon Jackson (Charles Stewart), Freddie Jones (Cluny), Jack Watson (James Stewart), Peter Jeffrey (Riach), Roger Booth (Duke of Cumberland), Geoffrey Whitehead (Lt Duncansby).

Crew: Delbert Mann (director), Frederick Brogger (producer), Jack Pulman (writer), Roy Budd (music), Paul Beeson (cinematography), Peter Boita (editor), Vetchinsky (art direction).

Synopsis: Scotland, 1746. In the aftermath of the battle at Culloden, Jacobite rebels are fleeing the forces of King George. The Stuart claim to the British throne is in tatters. Soon afterwards teenager David Balfour arrives at the House of Shaws, home of his uncle Ebenezer. The old man tries to arrange an accidental death for David. When that fails, Ebenezer has David kidnapped by a slave trader, Captain Hoseason. The 18-year-old is to be sold as a slave in America. But Hoseason’s ship runs over a boat carrying Alan Breck. The rebel leader was trying to reach a vessel bound for France. Hoseason’s ship crashes against rocks, throwing Breck and David into the water. The pair make it to shore and start walking to Edinburgh. David and Breck see innocent women and children murdered by government forces led by Mungo Campbell. They stop at the home of James Stewart, a former Jacobite. David is smitten by James’s daughter, Catriona. Next morning Mungo Campbell and his men come for James. Mungo is murdered by an unseen assassin and James is wounded. David, Breck and Catriona flee. Later they hear James survived and is going to stand trial in Edinburgh for murdering Mungo Campbell. David goes to the Lord Advocate and tries to give evidence that James is innocent, but the Lord Advocate refuses to listen. Unless Breck is captured, James will be found guilty in his place and executed. David inherits the House of Shaws after Ebenezer dies. Catriona begs David not to give evidence, or she will lose him and her father. Breck admits he killed Mungo Campbell. The Jacobite rebel surrenders himself, saving James…

In 1971 American director Delbert Mann was hired to shoot a new version of the much loved Robert Louis Stevenson novel Kidnapped. The tale had already been adapted for the cinema three times before, so the production sought a new approach. Screenwriter Jack Pulman drew on both Kidnapped and Stevenson’s sequel Catriona (also known as David Balfour) for his plot. Mann told Film Making magazine that most literary scholars considered the books had to be read together to be fully acceptable as classic novels: ‘Each depends on the other to give the reader full enjoyment.’

The movie was shot on location in Scotland over the Summer of 1971, using the working title of David and Catriona. Fresh from filming Get Carter, London-born Caine was cast in the unlikely role of Jacobite rebel Alan Breck. Mann said using a famous actor was important for a healthy box office. ‘Stars do still have a pull on the public. Michael, for example, is one star who can get the public in on his name!’ Stirling Castle stood in for Edinburgh Castle during the shoot, while the township of Kinross took of the place of Edinburgh circa 1746. Studio work was lensed at Pinewood, near London.

In the film’s official press book, Caine said he wanted to play Breck because Kidnapped would be seen by a far wider audience than most of his previous films. ‘It has a marvellous script by Jack Pulman, which is another reason why I accepted the part. Of course, I’ve had to adapt my Scots accent to make it sound easy and natural. It won’t fool the Scots, but I trust they’ll forgive me. After all, it’s my job to make Alan Breck easily understood by audiences all over the world.’

The funding for Kidnapped run out during filming and producer Frederick Brogger struggled to keep the cameras rolling long enough to finish. Caine deferred his salary to help the film stay solvent. Nobody was fully paid for the picture, and Caine rarely discusses Kidnapped. William Hill’s biography, Arise Sir Michael Caine, quoted the actor on the troubled production: ‘I never got paid for it so I refuse to discuss it. I’m a professional, and if I don’t get paid I don’t talk about it. They made it when they didn’t have the money to make it. I got a small percentage just so they would be able to release it, to get at least some money back on it. It was an absolute and utter disaster from beginning to end.’

The picture reached British cinemas in 1972, renamed Kidnapped and rated U. Critics were underwhelmed, but found praise for Caine’s acting, if not his accent. The film was not a box office success in the UK or the US, where it was rated G. Kidnapped was released in VHS in Britain during 1986 but has been deleted for more than a decade. It is much sought after by Caine collectors. The movie has never been available on DVD. [Update: Kidnapped was fleetingly released on DVD in 2005 and quickly deleted.]

Reviews: ‘Perhaps the fact that everyone eats so much porridge renders the script so constipated.’ – The Guardian
‘Disappointing version of Stevenson tale is made endurable by Caine’s pleasing performance as Alan Breck.’ – Maltin’s

Verdict: Kidnapped is a plodding adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s interlinked novels that never gets out of second gear. Some nice scenery and a few skirling bagpipes cannot make up for the lack of excitement generated by this workmanlike effort. The central characters stroll around Scotland, searching for the end of the film. Part of the problem lies with source material that has never been made into a successful movie, despite numerous attempts. Caine does his best as Highland adventurer Alan Breck, but struggles to master a Scottish accent. At least his presence gives this drab, lifeless picture some much-needed novelty value.

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