Thursday, September 27, 2018

Short Take: Kidnapped

(1917) Directed by Alan Crosland; Based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson; Starring: Raymond McKee, Joseph Burke and Robert Cain;

Available on: DVD from Amazon

Rating: ***½

“O Alan, this last hour my legs have been fainting under me; I’ve a stich in my side and I canna breathe right. If I die ye’ll forgive me, for in my heart I liked ye fine – even when I was angriest!” – David Balfour (Raymond McKee)

What’s longer than a Quick Pick, but shorter than a full-length review? Introducing a new semi-regular feature, Short Takes, providing an abbreviated look at movies. Like the old beer commercial, it tastes great but it’s less filling.

If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to spend a night at the movies a century ago, have I got the DVD for you: Kidnapped: A Complete 1917 Night at the Movies, produced by Fritzi Kramer of Movies Silently.* It’s the next best thing to stepping into a time machine.  

* Her site serves as a constant reminder that I don’t cover nearly enough movies from the pre-talkie era.

Based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Kidnapped was produced by Thomas Edison’s Conquest division and directed by Alan Crosland. According to the press release, Sandy Hook, New Jersey conveniently stood in for the Scottish coast. Our youthful protagonist, David Balfour (Raymond McKee) stands to gain a large inheritance, but his no-good Uncle Ebenezer (Joseph Burke) has other plans. After David fails to meet an untimely end (with Ebenezer’s help), the old creep sells him off to brigands on a merchant ship. David might be a young buck, but he proves on several occasions that he’s no fool. He joins forces with Alan Breck (Robert Cain), a fiery Scotsman with a heart of gold (he’s as quick-tempered as he’s handy with a sword). Their love-hate relationship is a precursor to a century’s worth of buddy movies.

Because this is a complete night at the movies after all, the feature is accompanied by four shorts. There’s something for everyone, starting with “Friends, Romans and Leo,” a comic tale set in Rome, featuring a debt-addled emperor, his daughter and her love-struck slave, and a surprising encounter with a lion. “Little Red Riding Hood” presents the classic story, simply told, and presented in silhouette. “Quaint Provincetown, Cape Cod,” depicts an idyllic travelogue, and a fascinating window into the past, showcasing the colorful port town and its people, where fishermen and artists rub elbows. In the final short, “Microscopic Pond Life,” what you see is what you get, with close-ups of various microscopic organisms, along with a brief description of their respective characteristics. Call me crazy (I know many have), but I dug this one, which appeals to the closet science nerd in many of us. Caution: no one will be seated during the unveiling of the protozoa.

Kidnapped is a fun popcorn flick that hits all the right notes, with swashbuckling action, adventure, deceit and camaraderie. The transfer, taken from 16mm elements, is surprisingly sharp, belying its advanced age. Add the four shorts, and you’ve got a whole evening’s entertainment (just add popcorn and the beverage of your choice). You can purchase it here.

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