Kidnapped (1938) DVD Review: An Engaging if Forgettable Adventure Film

One of many adaptations of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel, this version of Kidnapped is a sturdy adventure tale.
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One of a plethora of film adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel of the same name, 1938’s Kidnapped is a sturdy albeit heavily condensed tale of betrayal and loyalty in 18th Century Scotland. Truthfully, the behind-the-scenes goings-on are probably of more interest than the film itself, which is little more than matinee adventure ephemera — the film was initially directed by the great Otto Preminger, but his independent streak didn’t sit well with studio head Darryl F. Zanuck, who fired Preminger partway through and replaced him with Alfred Werker.

KidnappedPreminger’s connection with the film probably isn’t enough to warrant a look on its own, but the Fox Cinema Archives made-on-demand DVD-R of Kidnapped offers a solid transfer for any interested parties. The prolific and popular child star Freddie Bartholomew stars as David Balfour, a painfully straight arrow Scottish boy who dutifully informs others of their obligations to the law and to their English rulers. Talk swirls of the exploits of rebellion leader Alan Breck (Warren Baxter), but David is appalled at the insolence.

After receiving word that his father has died and he must travel to his uncle’s estate in Edinburgh, David sets out on the long journey. Soon, he’s crossed paths with the roguish Breck himself, challenging David’s previously held misconceptions about the morality of rebellion. Meanwhile, David’s uncle turns out to be a different kind of man than David expected, and soon, he’s on the run for his freedom.

Bartholomew brings his polished, precocious performance style to the character of David, and it’s an excellent fit for the mature but naïve boy. Less convincing is Baxter, who looks every bit of his almost 50 years and can barely muster a quarter of the energy one would expect from a rebellion leader. The film also slots in a similarly unconvincing romantic subplot between Baxter and Jean MacDonald (Arleen Whelan), a woman he’s attempting to deliver to one of his compatriots. Whelan is lovely, but the subplot doesn’t do the tightly constructed film’s momentum any favors.

Freddie SUTS

Nonetheless, Kidnapped generally works as an exciting, engaging story with a number of big-budget action setpieces. It may not be all that faithful to the source material, but there are plenty of other film adaptations to check out if that’s what you’re looking for.

For those not wanting to shell out the money for the decent Fox DVD-R, Kidnapped airs tonight, Aug. 18 on Turner Classic Movies at 7:15 p.m. Pacfic Time.

This post is an entry in the 2012 TCM SUTS Blogathon hosted by Sittin’ on a Backyard Fence and ScribeHard on Film. For more information and to view other entries throughout the month, check out their sites or follow the blogathon on Twitter

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