When Walt Disney first began expanding his films into live action territory, he leaned heavily on the classics as sources. Take for example his adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island in 1950 (and Disney’s first live action feature) and the slightly later adaptation of Jules Vernes’ 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
In 1960 he went back to the classics and another yarn from Robert Louis Stevenson. This time the work resulted in Kidnapped, released in 1960. The story, which has been filmed many times for both the big and small screens is surely well known but may need a slight review.
David Balfour (James MacArthur) has been denied his rightful inheritance by his uncle, lovingly named Ebenezer Balfour (and played by John Laurie). Uncle Eb tricks young David into boarding a ship captained by a Captain Hoseason (Bernard Lee), who kidnaps him and heads for the Carolinas.
Of the three early Disney movies mentioned (Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Kidnapped), Kidnapped is surely the weakest. Be warned that this doesn’t make it a poor film however. It is tame enough for viewing by all ages but with enough going for it to keep us “older kids” engaged.
Disney’s version is more faithful to the novel than most, and perhaps that is what does it in for us, especially those on this side of the pond. The latter half of the picture gets bogged down in what amounts to a mini-symposium on Scottish politics. And the Scottish brogue can be hard to follow at times as well.
The acting work here is good if uninspired. Finch and MacArthur make a good adventurous and amiable pair and work well on camera. Also a pleasant surprise is the wealth of native Scottish actors (including one Peter O’Toole in a bit part) and the lush location filming which highlights the later portions of the film.
What is good is that as well as Finch and MacArthur work here, their relationship lacks the witty one liners which would be mandated for success in the box office today. There isn’t any cute back story, which agreeably absent here.
Lastly, we have yet another James Bond tie-in. This time another good one as Bernard Lee takes the helm here as the good – or bad Captain Hoseason. Of course, Lee was the original and still undisputed best “M” ever.
It would be good to know if Kidnapped, like Treasure Island, was made in the UK for financial reasons. In the immediate post-war era, firms could not take earnings made in the UK out. Disney made Treasure Island there only as a means to use his trapped funds.
There isn’t anything fancy in terms of special effects but there are a few good fight scenes. The obligatory storm sequence on board the vessel highlights the nice bathtub used during filming. The model is a good one, but the waves are (as is usually the case) out of proportion.
It also has some nice moral messages which are subtle and nowhere near as preachy as they would be if made today. Breck’s vices are clearly on display but one is left to make their own conclusion.
Sadly, for some reason Disney has relegated Kidnapped to a very late debut on DVD, which came in 2008 as a part of their “Wonderful World of Disney” series. For the most part, the series is of slightly lesser quality Disney fare. It is a very watchable but bare bones release, lacking anything in the realm of supplemental material. It is available online via amazon’s instant video program (and surely other providers as well).
It’s a good if not great film, but still deserves better than Disney’s later releases give it.