Based on two Robert Louis Stevenson novels, Kidnapped (1886) and Catriona (1893), this medium-budgeted British adventure film gets off to a bumpy start, introducing the protagonist as a bit of a cipher while also failing to clearly explain the historical background of the Jacobite rebellion of the 17th and 18th centuries, during which Scots loyal to a deposed king waged battle against the occupational forces of the British government. However, once the movie introduces a key supporting character played by Michael Caine, the storyline achieves both clarity and vitality. By the end, when the protagonist has developed a personality and landed in the midst of a fraught sociopolitical conflict, Kidnapped becomes relatively engrossing. It helps that Caine’s performance gradually evolves from swashbuckling to something deeper, so even though there’s a bit of childish play-acting here—lots of running about with guns and swords—Caine’s natural gifts lend Kidnapped just the smidgen of gravitas it needs.
At the beginning of the story, David Balfour (Lawrence Douglas), whose father recently died, arrives at a remote Scottish castle to claim his inheritance. He’s met by a half-crazed uncle, Ebenezer (Donald Pleasance), who tries to kill David and then arranges to have David kidnapped for indentured service on a vessel sailing to the American colonies. The boat rams a smaller ship piloted by Alan Breck (Caine), a fugitive soldier with the Jacobite cause. Circumstances including a shipwreck throw Alan and David together, so they begin a journey across the Scottish highlands, where rebels offer sanctuary even as British troops stalk Alan, who has a price on his head. Things get even more involved from there, but suffice to say that David transforms from bystander to participant, gaining a crucial role in the story of the Jacobite rebellion while also forming a life-changing friendship with the roguish Alan.
In its best scenes, Kidnapped is an intelligent homage to the sort of pictures Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power used to make, heroism against a historical backdrop. While there’s an adequate amount of action, the focus is mostly on character interplay and political intrigue, so the climactic moment is a quiet scene of Alan choosing between national pride and personal safety. Yet one should not mistake Kidnapped for high art, since director Delbert Mann employs a workmanlike style. What’s more, the dialogue gets a bit much at times, with everything a “bonny” this or a “bonny” that. Some episodes come and go without leaving a mark, and leading lady Vivien Heilbron renders unmemorable work. Still, with Caine setting the pace and a raft of fine supporting turns—by Pleasance, Jack Hawkins, Trevor Howard, Freddie Jones, and Jack Watson—Kidnapped gets enough right to make for enjoyable viewing.