Thursday, August 2, 2018

Robert Stevenson's Kidnapped

James MacArthur as Stevenson's young hero.
Isn't it Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, you ask? Well, it is, of course, but today we're reviewing the Walt Disney-produced 1960 adaptation written and directed by Robert Stevenson. It was the fourth of 19 films that Stevenson made for Disney and also one of the filmmaker's best.

The oft-filmed story opens in 1751 with a young Scottish man named David Balfour (James MacArthur) journeying to the House of Shaws to present a letter to the laird from his recently-deceased father. It turns out that the miserly laird is David's Uncle Ebenezer, whom he never knew existed. When Ebenezer fails to murder David, he pays a ship's captain £20 to kidnap him and sell him as an indentured servant in the Carolinas.

Peter Finch as Alan Breck.
During a heavy fog at sea, the ship collides with a boat carrying a Scottish rebel named Alan Breck Stewart (Peter Finch). The roguish Alan makes a deal with the captain to deposit him on Scottish soil. When David warns Alan that the captain plans a doublecross, the two become allies. After a fight aboard the sailing vessel, it crashes into the rocks during a storm. David and Alan are separated, but are later reunited as David tries to get back home and Alan plots against the British who have stolen Scottish lands.

Filmed in Scotland (and in Pinewood Studios), Kidnapped surrounds the American MacArthur with a delightful cast of British veterans. Peter Finch, having appeared opposite Audrey Hepburn in the previous year's The Nun's Story, makes a dashing hero who is both gentleman and rascal. It's too bad that the usually serious Finch didn't get to play more roles like this. He's perfect as the kind of hero who drunkenly asks to borrow money, gambles it away, and then chastises his benefactor for loaning him the funds.

A young Peter O'Toole.
John Laurie, Bernard Lee (later M in the Bond movies), and Niall MacGinnis (Curse of the Demon) make an impressive trio of villains. Veteran character actor Finlay Currie (Ivanhoe) steals his lone scene as a Scottish nobleman who has lost everything to the British. Even Peter O'Toole, in one of his first roles, pops up in an amusing bagpipe "duel" with Finch.

James MacArthur, the adopted son of Helen Hayes and Charles MacArthur, starred in four Disney theatrical films, starting with The Light in the Forest (1958). MacArthur projected a likable screen persona that made him one of the busiest actors of the 1960s. In 1968, he landed the part of Danny Williams on the hit TV series Hawaii Five-O (another actor, Tim O'Kelly, played Danny in the pilot). In an enjoyable interview on his website, the now-deceased MacArthur was asked to list some of his favorite actors to work with and included Finch, Currie, and Laurie.

Bernard Lee as one of the baddies.
MacArthur, Finch, and writer-director Robert Stevenson make Kidnapped one of Disney's best historical adventures. The story--while episodic--is compelling and the splendid Scottish landscapes are well integrated into the action. (I only wish that the DVD, one of the Disney Movie Club exclusives, featured a more vibrant print.) While Stevenson's later films, such as Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks, were much too long, Kidnapped clocks in at a crisp 96 minutes. In fact, it could have been a wee longer. One of my few complaints is that it lacks a worthy climax and the ending seems a little rushed.

Stevenson's next film was one of Disney's biggest hits to date: The Absent-minded Professor (1961). James MacArthur followed Kidnapped with Swiss Family Robinson (1960), another Disney boxoffice success. And Peter Finch returned to serious roles, winning the BAFTA for Best Actor for The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1961).


  1. It's very interesting to see where Kidnapped fits in the scheme of things (careers). I watched this in the past year for the first time in a long time and was thoroughly entertained. I adore Finlay Currie! When is he never perfect?

    There was an excellent mini-series of Kidnapped in the late 1970s which included R.L. Stevenson's sequels. David McCallum was Alan Breck Stewart, and I recall my sisters and I were enthralled with the program.

  2. I recently read the classic on which this is based, and it's a terrific yarn. The Disney version looks to be entertaining, as well; I can't believe I've overlooked this one. Would love to see Peter Finch in this kind of role. Sometimes his seriousness is a little too much.

  3. Whenever Walt Disney tackled a fairy tale it became the definitive version. Whenever Disney tackled a novel of fiction it typically became either the definitive or even the most popular version. His 1st full-action feature Treasure Island (1950), as well as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), Swiss Family Robinson (1960) and this fine telling of Kidnapped (1960) are a few of many fine examples. Reasons include; effective & intelligent scripts, excellent cast, perfect direction, wonderful and intricately detailed set designs, etc.
    Over the years as these films have become remastered in high definition we can appreciate how Disney did not spare any expense to get these stories told in the most entertaining manner and with the highest quality possible. That being said, Kidnapped should be released by Disney in HD blu-ray to enjoy it even more. The first 3 classic films previously mentioned (Island, Leagues, Robinson) already have been released in HD blu-ray and I fell in love with these features all over again. New generations of viewers have a renewed opportunity to appreciate them also.

  4. Not only is this one of my favourite films of all time, it is absolutely my no.1 choice when it comes to the best
    films of Peter Finch.The role of the loveable rogue, Alan
    Break is the perfect fit for him and just as it is in the novel, Alan and David (perfectly played by James MacArthur) exemplify the true meaning of friendship.
    Their poignant farewell may seem a bit abrupt but it is true to R.L.Stevenson’s original text where the two men are wary of revealing their true devotion to each other.