Our look at the 1970s films of Michael Caine sets sail to Scotland in the family adventure film Kidnapped.
Spoilers for Kidnapped lie ahead.
The 1960s was Michael Caine’s breakout decade, giving us some of his most iconic performances in films such as Alfie and The Italian Job. However, the 1970s was much more of a mixed bag, with some genuine bona fide classics (Get Carter, Sleuth) alongside tons of flops and oddball curiosities that have now been mostly forgotten.
Who remembers that he starred in a historical epic with Omar Sharif? Or that he was in the sequel to The Poseidon Adventure? And what the heck could the film Peeper be about? So, film by film, I’ll be taking a look at Caine’s 1970s filmography to see what hidden gems I can unearth…
Spoilers for Kidnapped lie ahead…
Directed by: Delbert Mann (Marty, Separate Tables, That Touch of Mink)
Tagline: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Great Adventure Story…Now a Monumental Motion Picture!
Other Featured Geezers: Lawrence Douglas as David Balfour, Vivien Heilbron as Catriona Stewart, Trevor Howard as Lord Advocate Grant, Jack Hawkins as Captain Hoseason, Donald Pleasance as Ebenezer Balfour, Gordon Jackson as Charles Stewart, Freddie Jones as Cluny MacPherson, Geoffrey Whitehead as Lieutenant Duncansby
What’s it all about, Alfie?: Based on the classic adventure novel of the same name by Robert Louis Stevenson (and the first half of its sequel Catriona), Kidnapped follows the adventures of plucky Scottish laddie David Balfour (Lawrence Douglas) in 18th century Scotland.
Having reached adulthood, the orphaned David goes to claim his inheritance from the custodianship of his eccentric uncle Ebenezer (the very rarely not eccentric Donald Pleasance). However, the only thing that Ebenezer is willing to concede to David is a bit of his midnight porridge, so, after an unsuccessful attempt to lead David to his death, Ebenezer pays for Captain Hoseason (Jack Hawkins) to kidnap David and put him to work as a slave in the Carolinas.
Enroute across the ocean, Hoseason’s ship bumps in to Alan Breck’s (Michael Caine) little boat. Breck, a wanted Jacobite fleeing the country after Charles Edward Stuart’s defeat at the Battle of Culloden, asks if Hoseason can take him to France. On board he strikes up a friendship with David after David warns him of the crew’s plan to kill him and take his gold. After some successful swashbuckling they defeat the men but are shipwrecked and wash back up in Scotland.
Now they both need to get to Edinburgh, Breck to charter another boat to France and David to get even with his uncle. So, this olde odd couple (David is a lowlander and Breck is a highlander, but not the immortal Christopher Lambert kind) venture off together, getting in to scrapes and playing cards with angry men in caves along the way.
Caine-ness: Caine is first billed, with his name preceding the title, and is the only real A-list international star in this with the rest of the cast filled out with recognisable British character actors.
He first pops up about 20 minutes in, clambering aboard Hoseason’s ship, looking a bit confused but with lovely wavy locks, a dapper moustache and a nice broach.
He’s meant to be Scottish and, I’m not Scottish so my opinion doesn’t count for much, but I don’t think his accent is too bad. It’s certainly better than his American and German attempts in previous films. Yes, he does definitely slip in to Cockney fairly regularly, but you can tell that he’s trying, bless him. He also, at times, sounds a bit like he’s trying to do an impression of his friend Sir Sean Connery.
Overall, it’s not a particularly challenging or deep role for him, especially coming on the heels of the morally complex anti-heroes of Get Carter and The Last Valley, but he does get to finally show off his long-hidden action hero side such as during a spot of sword fighting in a nice little compact action scene in the closed quarters of a ship’s cabin. We haven’t seen proper action man Caine before and he seems to be giving it his all. He’s clearly having a lot of fun, and he’s very charming, as the roguish adventurer Alan Breck, relishing melodramatic lines such as, after having survived a shipwreck; “Water and me don’t mix, I’m born to be hanged, not drowned”.
Thankfully, for long-time fans, he gets to do a bit of the signature Michael Caine pointy and shouty acting. It’s clearly contagious because Lawrence Douglas starts having a go at this too in one scene (but shortly after gets slapped by Caine, which I assume wasn’t in character and was just because Caine didn’t like to see his actorly moves being stolen).
If I’m honest, and since I already mentioned his name, I do think that Sean Connery would have suited this role much better. Obviously, the fact that he was actually Scottish would have been a huge perk but there’s an inherent hard roguish edge about Connery that fits the role more. I could very much imagine him getting into many scraps in the highlands. Obviously, Caine can be genuinely terrifying and brutal as evidenced by his previous turn in Get Carter, but he is lacking a bit of that brutalist undercurrent in this. Perhaps because his wavy locks look so nicely shampooed and condition it’s hard to take him seriously.
This is Caine’s third attempt at a non-English accent (after American in Hurry Sundown and German in The Last Valley).
Gordon Jackson appeared alongside Caine in The Ipcress File.
Trevor Howard appeared in Battle Of Britain but didn’t share any screen time with Caine.
This is the second time that Caine has appeared in an adaptation of the work of Robert Louis Stevenson (the other being The Wrong Box).
*I am only counting connections from Caine’s first feature film starring role in Zulu
Best Non-Caine Actor:
There are lots of fantastic supporting turns in this from some excellent actors. There’s Trevor Howard as the bewigged snuff snorting Lord Advocate, Gordon Jackson as a put-upon lawyer and Geoffrey Whitehead as a would-be assassin. I was mostly familiar with the appropriately named Whitehead as an older man in things such as Not Going Out and so was shocked to see him pop up here with a disconcertingly youthful and smooth face.
The film’s actual protagonist, Lawrence Douglas as David Balfour, is fine. It’s not a particularly interesting character but he does his best. It’s the performance that you’d expect from a young actor in this fairly generic heroic youth role in a period piece. Douglas didn’t go on to have much of a career in film and TV (with only a handful of credits on IMDB after this movie, and most of these are Scottish projects including episodes of Taggart and The Adventures Of Greyfriars Bobby), but I wouldn’t say that it’s because he’s a bad actor. He gives a likeable and engaging enough performance with the limited material that he’s given. Although he is admittedly regularly upstaged by the much more experienced older cast members and their more eccentric characters.
Donald Pleasance was the most enjoyable, dialling his inherent weird energy up to 11 as the peculiar Uncle Ebenezer. I didn’t initially recognise him when he’s introduced poking his head out of a window on a dark and stormy night, brandishing a gun, with mad hair and a Scottish accent. Then he spends the next scene threateningly shouting “Do ya want me porridge?” at David before creepily calling his mum a “bonny lassie”. He’s a very fun presence whenever he’s on screen, and even gets a good final scene when, on his deathbed, he asks the doctor to leave the room so that he can talk to David in private to tell him; “dannae let him charge you too much”.
Another great little role is Freddie Jones as Cluny MacPherson, a seemingly very angry but actually kind-hearted man who puts David and Alan up in his cave for a night. He gets incredibly annoyed when David criticises gambling, as he really bloody loves playing cards. He later secretly gives the money back to David that he won from Alan, not wanting to take money from a man on the run with so few resources, and when David questions why he wanted to gamble if he never intended to take the money he simply shouts “ay, but I like to play at the cards!”. So fair enough. What an enjoyably quirky little side character. It’s fun character moments like these that really raised the film in my estimation.
My Bleedin’ Thoughts:
I wasn’t initially sure what to expect, a film whose opening titles are accompanied by bagpipe music isn’t always the most promising of starts, but it ended up being an unexpected delight.
There’s a real timeless feel to this movie, I definitely wouldn’t immediately identify it as a 70’s film if I didn’t already know when it had been made (or didn’t recognise the actors). It could have easily have come from the 50’s or 60’s. This is probably helped by the fact that it’s a period piece, and an adaptation of a classic story, of course.
There’s something ineffably cosy about it all. Perhaps it’s the gauzy cinematography or the beautiful location filming in the highlands. The production values too, for the most part, are strong including recreations of gothic mansions, ships and caves and the impressive opening battle scenes that are stuffed to the gills with costumed extras.
It’s also pleasant to watch something with such an old fashioned uncynical sense of adventure. We don’t really get live action family adventure films like this anymore, certainly not ones which open with so much murder and contain multiple men getting shot in the face, which is a shame…I think…perhaps this shouldn’t be a PG actually…
My only reservation is that the last third of the film, once they reach Edinburgh, is a tad disappointing. It’s a lot of standing about in rooms talking about legal issues and so the film does lose some of its former momentum. It’s much less captivating looking at an office set than it is seeing people flouncing through the rolling highland hills. Allegedly, this is due to the film running out of money halfway through shooting and thus having to abandon the previously planned ending. In spite of this, the finale doesn’t feel cobbled together or unearned, just less exciting than it perhaps could have been.
Lastly, one other minor criticism, the warbly Mary Hopkin song, For All My Days, that plays over the credits is not a good choice unless it was chosen with the express intention of getting punters to leave the cinema as quickly as possible.
Jack Hawkins, who had lost his voice after a tracheotomy to operate on his throat cancer, was dubbed by Charles Gray. He is also wearing a scarf in all his scenes to obscure the site of the operation.
Paul Beeson, the director of photography, fulfilled the same role on the 1959 adaptation of the same novel. He was clearly a big fan.
In his book, Blowing The Bloody Doors Off And Other Lessons In Life, Caine states that this is the only movie that he never got paid for. He, understandably, still seems a bit bitter about this.
Overall Thoughts: I came in to this with low expectations, assuming it might be a bit of a slog to get through, but I had a grand old time and thought it was mostly a lot of fun. Caine is charismatic, there are some well executed action and adventure elements, amusing side characters and an overall timeless feel to it; a perfect film for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Rating: 4/5 Bowls of Your Dodgy Uncle’s Porridge
Where You Can Watch This: This is not currently streaming anywhere but is available to purchase on DVD and Blu-ray (and has been shown on Film4 a few times in the past year)
Up Next: Caine and Elizabeth Taylor are a bickering married couple in Zee And Co.
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