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Kidnapped: Disney Movie Club Exclusive DVD Review

"Kidnapped" (1960) movie poster Kidnapped

Theatrical Release: March 25, 1960 / Running Time: 84 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Robert Stevenson

Cast: Peter Finch (Alan Breck Stewart), James MacArthur (David Balfour), Bernard Lee (Captain Hoseason), Niall MacGinnis (Shaun), John Laurie (Uncle Ebenezer), Finlay Currie (Cluny MacPherson), Peter O'Toole (Robin Oig MacGregor), Miles Malleson (Mr. Rankeillor), Oliver Johnston (Mr. Campbell), Duncan MacRae (The Highlander), John Pike (Cabin Boy), Andrew Cruickshank (Colin Roy Campbell), Abe Barker (Donald Dhu MacLaren), Eileen Way (Jennet Clouston), Alex MacKenzie (The Ferryman)

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By Michael Miller

Walt Disney enjoyed great success with Treasure Island, so it seemed natural for him to take a stab at another Robert Louis Stevenson novel. This is just what Walt did, adapting Kidnapped ten years later. This film opens when David Balfour (James MacArthur) receives a letter from his recently deceased father.
The document is sealed with instructions to deliver the letter to the master of the House of Shaws.

The House of Shaws is dark and eerie, complete with cawing crows and creeping rats. The sole resident of the estate is a miserly recluse who is unacquainted with hospitality and suspicious of David and his letter. The two engage in a battle of wits as David tries to understand the significance of his father's directions and the old hermit seeks to undermine David's search for truth. The scenario becomes more bizarre when David discovers the old man is his uncle!

When David finally seems to gain some leverage in their relationship, Uncle Ebenezer (John Laurie) concedes to direct the young man to a small box at the top of the stairs that contains all the answers to his questions. Only, the stairs never end and David only narrowly escapes his uncle's plot to murder him. Determined to get the truth, David gets Ebenezer to promise to tell all... in the morning.

"I need to warn you about your uncle," Captain Hoseason (Bernard Lee, right) tells David Balfour (James MacArthur). David gets Kidnapped!

When the sun rises, a ship's cabin boy arrives at the House of Shaws to inform Ebenezer of an imminent meeting with Captain Hoseason (Bernard Lee). This allows Ebenezer to again hold off the inquisitive David, who compromises by agreeing to meet with a reputable lawyer after his uncle's meeting. Before this can happen, though, Captain Hoseason offers to give David vital information about his wicked uncle in the privacy of his ship. Once David is safely aboard, he discovers he has been tricked. He is kidnapped!

Later, David learns his captors plan to make him an indentured servant in North Carolina; his scheming uncle has deceived him again. On the way there, the ship collides into a fishing boat. Enter Alan Breck Stewart (Peter Finch), the famous (or infamous, defending on whose side you're on) Scottish loyalist who opposes British rule. Upon learning that Stewart is carrying a lot of cash, Captain Hoseason plans to kill his visitor. He enlists the aid of David (in exchange for the young man's freedom), but is immediately double-crossed.

David and Alan Breck form an alliance and determine to defend themselves against repeated attacks from the ship's crew. A dangerous storm separates the two, leaving David in the Highlands with no sign of his comrade. When they reunite, they must dodge the British military on the long journey to the House of Shaws.

Money talks. On guard!

Filled with intensity and action, Kidnapped is an exciting film and one which gets better and better with repeat viewings. Nevertheless, Kidnapped actually did quite poorly at the box office in its one and only theatrical release.
There are several factors that probably contributed to its failure, such as the considerable amount of dialogue and the fact that the mind games occurring throughout the film are likely to fly over the heads of younger viewers (always a formidable demographic of Disney's audience).

Then, there are the strong Scottish accents that are difficult for most American viewers to understand; a similar fate befell an earlier Robert Stevenson-directed Disney picture: Darby O'Gill and the Little People, released the year before. Furthermore, even when understood, the dialogue may still be lost on many viewers for another reason: the story is immersed in English history. The story takes place in the 18th century during a time of political tension and upheaval following the "Glorious Revolution." The reign of King George represents the domination of the Whig party - a scenario celebrated by the Campbells, yet detested by the Stuarts/Tories. David is a Whig and Alan Breck prefers the Scottish Stuart's dynasty; their political differences have a huge impact on the relationship.

Like much of the Walt-era live-action fare that has gone years without turning up on DVD, Kidnapped makes its long-awaited digital debut as a disc exclusive to members of the Disney Movie Club. Its designation as part of the Club's "Wonderful World of Disney" line is a misnomer. The film was made for theatrical release and it is unquestionably superior to most television fare, even Walt's stronger efforts for the small screen. Kidnapped makes an important contribution to Disney's live action canon: it was directed by Disney ace Robert Stevenson. Stevenson also wrote the screenplay, which remains vigorously loyal to the novel written by his "distant relative" (as Disney erroneously told the press around the time of the film's original release). After a six-year hiatus, Kidnapped reinitiated a regular pattern of Walt Disney-produced films being made at Pinewood Studios in England. (Some of the movie was shot on authentic Scottish locations.) Pinewood Studios continued to be a steady home to solid Disney films for many years to come.

Buy Kidnapped on DVD from Amazon Marketplace DVD Details

1.33:1 Fullscreen
Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Subtitles: English; Closed Captioned
DVD Release Date: July 2006
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Standard Club Price: $19.95
White Keepcase
Released Exclusively to Disney Movie Club
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VIDEO and AUDIO

The presentation of Kidnapped is decent. The picture is reasonably clear with occasional white specks and artifacts. The movie doesn't utilize a wide spectrum of colors but those used are only slightly faded. The frame is sadly in the 1.33:1 "fullscreen" ratio but the movie fortunately appears to be presented in open matte. On a widescreen television, the unnecessary space on the top and bottom of the frame can be eliminated
by using the zoom function at the cost of reduced picture quality. This process will matte Kidnapped down close to its probable theatrical ratio of 1.75:1.

The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono presentation is satisfactory. It is difficult to understand some of the dialogue through the Scottish accents. Otherwise, the audio presentation is clear and consistent throughout the film.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and DESIGN

The World of Disney may be wonderful, but the same cannot be said for the bonus features in this brand of Disney Movie Club exclusives. Like the other discs in the collection, the only thing included other than the movie is the opening from the anthology television show. The DVD does not even include chapter selections.

Last night was a bad night (for Danno). The beginning of a beautiful friendship...

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Viewers who can be patient enough to wade through the Scottish accents and diligent enough to comprehend the historical background will find Kidnapped to be a wonderful film. The plot and subplots are dense enough to provide enjoyable repeat viewings because there is always something more to understand. If you like other Disney action/adventure pieces from the '50s such as Treasure Island, Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, and The Sign of Zorro, then you will probably love this film. It is disappointing that Disney failed to include any extras on this Club-exclusive DVD, yet when you watch this film (with the solid picture and sound), you might just find yourself kidnapped!

Buy from Amazon.com Marketplace / The book: Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

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Related Reviews:
Treasure Island (1950) Muppet Treasure Island (1996) Treasure Planet (2002)
Zorro: The Complete First Season (1957-58) Swiss Family Robinson (1960) Third Man on the Mountain (1959)
The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952 - Former DMC Exclusive) The Shaggy Dog (1959)
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) Toby Tyler, or Ten Weeks With a Circus (1960)
The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959)
Walt Disney Treasures: Elfego Baca The Swamp Fox - Legendary Heroes (1958-60)
Featuring Peter O'Toole: Ratatouille Venus Stardust

Related Page: Full List of Disney Movie Club Exclusive DVDs

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Reviewed August 3, 2006.