TREASURE ISLAND (director: Victor Fleming; screenwriters: ohn Lee Mahin/John Howard Lawson/Leonard Praskins/based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson; cinematographers: Clyde DeVinna/Ray June/Harold Rosson; editor: Blanche Sewell; music: Herbert Stothart; cast: Wallace Beery (Long John Silver), Jackie Cooper (Jim Hawkins), Lionel Barrymore (Billy Bones), Otto Kruger (Dr. Livesey), Lewis Stone (Capt. Smollett), Nigel Bruce (Squire Trelawney), Dorothy Peterson (Mrs. Hawkins), Charles McNaughton (Black Dog), William V. Mong (Pew), Charles Sale (Ben Gunn), Douglas Dumbrille (Israel Hands); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hunt Stromberg; MGM; 1934)
“A quality Hollywood adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson kiddie classic.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A quality Hollywood adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson kiddie classic (at the time, the fifth film version of the classic but the first as a talkie). The screenplay is finely handled by John Lee Mahin, John Howard Lawson and Leonard Praskins and it’s directed with an eye for beautiful visual effects by Victor Fleming (“The Wizard of Oz”/”Red Dust”/”Gone With the Wind”). It follows closely along the same course as the original story, with changes for a happy ending and a scene that had Cooper bawling (what the child star was famous for in all his films) dictated by MGM chief Louis B. Mayer. MGM gives the black and white film high production values and an all-star cast. Stevenson made it as an adventure swashbuckling story for twelve year old boys, and that’s what the film keeps intact. It can be somewhat faulted for its deliberate and tiresome pace, the wooden acting of child star Jackie Cooper (being cute does not sub for acting skills) and for being too slow in picking up a head of steam. But those are faults that give way to all the film’s charms: Wallace Beery’s scene stealing by giving his ruthless character a warmth with comic relief, the sheer joy of such a literate fun-filled and blood-curdling yarn, and its storytelling stands the test of time. Nevertheless, the Disney remake in 1950 is more enjoyable.
The tale set during the mid 1700s opens at the seaside Admiral Benbow Inn near Bristol, England, that’s run by the 12-year-old Jim Hawkins (Jackie Cooper) and his widowed mother (Dorothy Peterson). A mysterious stranger, an old sea dog named Billy Bones (Lionel Barrymore), arrives at the inn and rents a room and goes on a rum inspired rant about treasure in his sea-chest, and that he’s worried about seafaring men pursuing him. Soon visited by the threatening Black Dog (Charles McNaughton) and then by the beggar Blind Pew (William V. Mong), who gives him the ‘black spot’ – the mark of imminent death among pirate crews. After Blind Pew leaves Billy collapses on the inn floor and dies of a ‘thundering apoplexy’. Instead of gold in Billy’s chest, Jim finds a long-lost treasure map that leads to the evil and infamous dead pirate Captain Flint’s ill-gotten treasure. Dr. Livesey (Otto Kruger) realizes the map will bring great riches and has the talkative Squire Trelawney (Nigel Bruce) raise money for a voyage to the treasure island. They hire the resolute Captain Alexander Smollett (Lewis Stone) and set sail on the Hispaniola, the schooner that the Squire purchased. But the inexperienced Squire gets fooled into hiring the one-legged user of a crutch, with a parrot perched on his shoulder, smooth talking Long John Silver as cook, and he brings along his gang of cutthroats as part of the crew. Those crew members not part of Long John’s mutiny scheme meet with “accidents” during the voyage. When about to land on Skeleton Island, Jim overhears Long John plotting to steal the treasure and kill Smollett’s men. After warning the good guys Jim goes ashore with some of the crew and finds an old half-mad cheese eating hermit, Ben Gunn (Charles Sale), a reformed pirate Flint left behind on the island for the last three years, who has found the treasure and keeps it in his cave. Meanwhile Smollett and his men fled to the stockade for safety after battling the pirates and signing a peace treaty. It ends happily as Smollett sails home with the treasure, the pirates are left on the island to fend for themselves and Long John is saved from hanging by Jim’s kindness (the gentle boy wouldn’t harm a fly, and shows his merit by being honest and being a man of his word) and rows away to Jamaica with his pockets filled with stolen gold while promising Jim he will turn over a new leaf and be good.
REVIEWED ON 7/16/2007 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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