Kidnapped

Synopsis: It was to be the most startling film of Bava’s entire career: After a botched payroll heist, a trio of vicious criminals take hostages in a desperate getaway that explodes with cruelty, degradation and shocking violence. But when the film’s financier was killed during the last stages of production, his entire estate — including the sole unfinished work print of RABID DOGS — was seized and impounded by an Italian court. Mario Bava’s final masterpiece — one of the most intense EuroCrime thrillers of all time — would remain locked away for nearly 23 years.

This presentation, KIDNAPPED, features footage shot by producer Alfredo Leone and Mario’s son and longtime assistant Lamberto Bava.

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Kidnapped 7.25

eyelights: its plot. its tension-building. its twists. its new dubbing.
eyesores: Don Backy, George Eastman and Maria Fabbri’s performances. its new inserts. its new soundtrack.

“I’m afraid something terrible might happen.”

In 1996, Mario Bava’s ‘Cani arrabbiati‘ was given its first screening after 23 years in legal limbo. Since the director had passed on in 1980, and had not had the chance to fully complete it, what little that was left undone was assembled for the release by actress Lea Lander.

But producer Alfredo Leone and Bava’s son, Lamberto, were unhappy with the results, so, in 2001, they released their own version. Retitled ‘Kidnapped’, the picture featured a new opening credit sequence, a new soundtrack, a new dubbing, and some additional inserts by Lamberto.

It was not received well by Bava fans, who decried the fact that Lamberto altered his father’s near-masterpiece. They particularly despised the fact that the ending, which is ‘Cani arrabbiati’s greatest punch to the gut, was also changed, dissipating a lot of its original edge.

It’s an over-reaction.

Though admittedly, ‘Kidnapped’ is the weaker of the two versions, and altering the original is disrespectful of Mario Bava’s intentions, one first has to remember that ‘Cani arrabbiati’ is hardly perfect; it has inherent flaws. This was an opportunity to clean it up slightly.

Unfortunately, Alfredo and Lamberto, in the process of fixing a few things, worsened others:

  • The opening credits are just awful: they consist of a black screen with simple text. The Lander cut had a more contextually-appropriate credit sequence that looked and sounded ’70s; dated though it was in 1996, it was the correct approach.
  • The montage leading to the hijacking of Riccardo and the young boy is re-edited to focus strictly on the criminals. This gives the impression that it’s their movie, and Riccardo appears out of nowhere. Though the original cut was a bit confusing because we didn’t understand what this stuffy guy was doing in the picture, driving around, it made sense to see these two paths converge, only for them to part again at the end. Our lead is actually Riccardo here, not the Dottore and his thugs.
  • Making matters worse, Lamberto filmed an additional sequence with a woman calling a police inspector to find out if he has any news. Since we haven’t met Riccardo yet, this means absolutely nothing to the audience and is probably more confusing than watching Riccardo driving around. Its “payoff” is at the end, and it’s not much of one. That it was clearly shot recently and doesn’t match the rest of the footage is an additional indignity.
  • To pad the opening sequence, tons of footage of Carabinieri and Polizia chasing or looking for the gang has been inserted into the picture. It transforms the picture into a duel between the criminals and the law – until it no longer is, when Riccardo comes into the picture and the police basically disappear. Stupid, stupid stupid. Though the inserts were possibly planned, having removed Riccardo from the montage skewed the balance completely.
  • The rest of the picture runs mostly as expected, though the dubbing is different. Back in the day, many Italian films were still being shot without sound and the audio track was dubbed in the studio later – so the original footage didn’t have any sound. This is the one improvement to the new version, as the other dub was sloppy and sometimes the characters moved their lips without uttering a sound. Here, it all comes together more cleanly.
  • The score, however, isn’t as good. Though both are comprised of compositions by Stelvio Cipriani, the 2001 version consists of newly-recorded tracks. And, frankly, they sound like late ’80s-early ’90s compositions – so 15-20 years out of place. ‘Cani arrabbiati’ has a more appropriate motion picture score. It’s not a glaring issue, but it’s anachronistic.
  • More glaring, however, is the ending, which inserts shots of the woman taking Riccardo’s call and discussing the ransom. Firstly, it’s unnecessary: seeing only one side of the conversation added mystery and surprised the audience when it unfolded. Now the reveal is diminished. Further to that, it begins and ends abruptly: one moment Riccardo is leaving with the getaway car and then he’s on the phone. WTF. As for the ending, the moment the woman says “Three billion lire?”, the image freezes and credits roll. Really?

The ending is, without a doubt the greatest part of ‘Cani arrabbiati’ because it’s so unexpected and it forces the audience to reconsider the whole picture and character dynamics. That Lamberto and Alfredo Leone would dare to mess around with it is beyond belief with stupidity.

The picture is hardly ruined, however, no matter what anyone says: it remains an edge-of-your-seat, tension-filled road-trip; every single time that there’s a risk that the gang will be caught, they have a stroke of luck. Bava was basically playing with us the whole time. Nice.

And, again, the picture was hardly perfect in the first place. The over-the-top performances by Don Backy, George Eastman and Maria Fabbri remain grating – there’s really nothing that could be done about that. They were a blight on the original and they remain one here as well.

As I watched this version of the picture, it occurred to me how much the dubbing affects performances. While, admittedly, Backy, Eastman and Fabbri swallowed the scenery whole, the cartoonish dubs that they were given exacerbated the issue; subtlety would have helped some.

‘Kidnapped’ would also have been improved with a better sub. As it stands, it’s an okay film. But it’s certainly inferior to the Lander cut, and I’d only recommend it for the opportunity to study how editing can affect a movie. Otherwise, it’s better to stick with the “original”.

‘Cani arrabbiati’ is one of Mario Bava’s best pictures.

See that version first.

Date of viewing: July 16, 2017

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