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I noticed, like some of the other reviewers, that few in the film had
the necessary British accents needed to play these characters well.
However, despite this, the movie is an excellent version of the
Stevenson novel--mostly due to good acting, great sets and the nice MGM
polish you'd expect from one of their top productions.
As far as the film goes, it's one of the earliest of the Wallace Beery films that teamed him with a cute kid--a formula that was repeated again and again up until Beery's death in 1949. Considering that according to his co-star, Jackie Cooper, Beery hated children and did little to hide it off camera--so I am sure in some ways Beery probably wished this and "The Champ" hadn't been so successful!!
As for the story, it's the often told story of "Treasure Island" by Robert Louis Stevenson. It's reasonably faithful to the story and is better than other versions I have seen. However, I have NOT seen the very famous Robert Newton version (by many seen as the best), so I cannot say the 1934 version was the best--though many of the newer versions tended to be a bit more dull. Like it or not, the Beery-Cooper schmaltz was entertaining--and I can see why audiences fell for it by the millions!
By the way, like so many releases from Turner Entertainment, this film includes many wonderful extras from the same studio (MGM) from the same year as this feature's release. Turner also does this with many of their classic Warner Brothers releases as well--making them excellent values for customers.
I've seen no other film versions of this, so I was going merely from a
long-ago remembrance of the book, and a memorable children's audio reading
(backed by Bedrich Smetana's majestic 'Die Moldau').
Let me say; this is on the whole a satisfactory, if not completely satisfying film version of the classic adventure. It's difficult to envisage it being done better at the time, at MGM, than it was here. That is not to say that I am entirely happy; the ending is a bad misfire. Irresponsibly altering Stevenson's ending to 'tie in' with the film's top-heavy emphasis on the Long John Silver/Jim Hawkins relationship. It's all rather silly, sentimental stuff; going unnecessarily far in trying to 'soften' the inimitable ship's cook...
But broadly, I did really appreciate this film, which captures much of the book's zest and adventure. Some of the scope and scale of the story is missed, but not as badly as it could have been. A fine cast see to that; an instantly recognizable (if somewhat young by his standards!) Nigel Bruce as the crusty, jingoistic buffoon, Squire Trelawney, is tremendously Dickensian and makes a real impression. Smollett is essayed imperiously by Lewis Stone (stuffy and boring two years previously in "The Mask of Fu Manchu"); could this sort of completely steadfast assurance and quiet dignity be easily replicated today? Oh, the pronounced sobriety of the way the camera lingers over the putting up of the Union Jack at the Stock Aide... truly of a long past era, and yet this is an American film displaying convincing old British patriotism.
Jackie Cooper is also far away from today's acting styles; manifestly limited to a few notes, but heck, the kid plays it for all its worth. He invests it all with a slightly precocious indignation that somehow works - 'Bless my *soul*...!' 'Upon my word, I don' know what you're talking about!' He's like an American William Hague transplanted to the 1930s with an interest in seafaring and maritime adventure.
Wallace Beary is limited also, as the marvelous character, Long John Silver; only really bringing out the lovable, unreliable charlatanry of Silver. Beery hams it up; oh yes; but not to the definitive degree of Robert Newton (from what I have heard); it doesn't strike me as entirely right that ol' Long John is a drawling, almost completely comical American seadog. But Beery just about wins me over, with a performance of some charm. Not to be forgotten amongst the cast are William V. Mong as a sinister Blind Pew and a typically gibbering, truly insane Ben Gunn played by Charles 'Chic' Sale. His initial scene with Jackie Cooper is an absurd, humorous delight, as you see this exaggeratedly world-weary child being completely flummoxed by this bizarre, apeish chap, all wild body language and liberty with language...
The early part of the film ought to be mentioned; the tavern is portrayed as dingy - surprisingly so for the time and considering the studio - Jackie Cooper seems a little out of place really. In a sense, it is a shame that the cast is not uniformly British to lend a bit more of the Stevenson air to things. Lionel Barrymore as Captain Billy 'Bill' Bones completely walks away with the early section, appropriately sailing well over the top in acting approach; marvellous stuff, like Tom Waits crossed with how I'd really imagined LJS. Obviously, it was to be only a cameo - the story is thus followed - but it's a shame, as his presence is wonderful. Might he indeed have made a fine Long John? He seems a fine actor to me; here even outstripping the stylized pathos of his Otto Kringelein in "Grand Hotel".
In overall estimation, this is a dandy fine effort really; it lacks some sense of the book's exuberant mystery and majesty, and the ending is a serious mistake, but this is a wonderful entertainment. Victor Fleming was an artisan of the populist, but thankfully he doesn't totally unbalance this production in favour of the treacly and 'family-orientated'. This film bears the Jolly Roger with jocular aplomb.
Beery's Long John Silver and Barrymore's Billy Bones are the quintessential pop-culture pirates, parrots and all, and for that alone 1934's "Treasure Island" is worth watching. The black and white cinematography is great (I gather that there is a colourised version but who cares) and the music, with the iconic "Yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum" theme, is perfect. The gang of pirates are as scurrilous a band of brigands as you could ask for: the embodiment of treachery with bad teeth, led by the conniving Silver, played to the cutlass hilt by the great Wallace Beery. The only real weak point is child-star Jackie Cooper's Jack Hawkins character. Cooper's characteristic pouting lower lip and Shirley Temple delivery just didn't work in the generally grim and dark tale every time he spoke, I expected Wheezer or Stymie to show up (apparently Cooper himself was not pleased by his delivery of the role). Other than that, and the studio-approved alteration to the end of the story, this is a fine version of the Robert L. Stevenson's classic novel.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie holds up pretty well, in spite of acting styles and a
general Thirties feel that may seem a bit off to the modern viewer.
But Stevenson's story is presented here overall with more authenticity than the later Disney version. The gruesome death of Blind Pew, and the murder of an honest seaman by Long John Silver, witnessed by the horrified Jim Hawkins, are presented unflinchingly.
The shipboard and island scenes are good, and the siege of the stockade is excitingly staged. Douglas Dumbrille turns in an incredibly malevolent performance as Israel Hands, pursuing Jim with a dagger around the ship, with them the only people on it. It's a really fascinating villain role for Dumbrille, in light of his usual portrayal of smooth, suave bad guys. With baggy seaman's trousers and a bandanna, stubbly beard and earring, and eyes that gleam with murderous delight, firing the cannon at the longboat of escaping good guys, and laughing diabolically, this may be Dumbrille's most memorable part.
The opening segment, with the old buccaneer Billy Bones arriving at the inn and lodging there, to terrorize the villagers into singing rowdy sea chanteys with him, scandalizing everyone by gleefully narrating tales of his bloodthirsty adventures, and telling Jim to keep one eye open for a seafaring man with one leg, is marvelous. Lionel Barrymore has a great time as the bad tempered, drunken old pirate who owns the mysterious chest, and lives in fear of being found by his old shipmates. The scene where the incredibly frightening Blind Pew forces Jim Hawkins to lead him to Billy Bones and deliver the Black Spot, is hair raising.. The look of abject misery and mortal terror on Barrymore's face, when he is confronted by the creepy blind man ,is unforgettable.
This movie is a lot of fun for anyone who loves the R.L.Stevenson story, and pirate movies generally. The emotional climax, though criticized as overly sentimental, still packs a wallop even today.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Robert Louis Stevenson has written a fine tale of adventure, life on
the high seas, pirates, treasure chests, betrayal and intrigue, and all
that. This was the first book I can remember being given as a child. I
was too young to understand the vocabulary or even the general thrust
of the narrative. Of course I knew Jim Hawkins (Jackie Coogan) hid in
the apple barrel because the illustration showed that. But what was
really needed was a glossary for kids and landlubbers. Some glosses in
the margins, indicating that "the black spot" was what was left over
after a Mexican meal. And informing the reader that "helm" was the
opposite of "heavenm." And that "pole star" was an allusion to Paweł
Wojciechowski, the Pole vaulter. Fortunately, the movie is couched in
easily understood images and accompanied by dialog the meaning of which
can be interpolated into the context.
Young Jim Hawkins and his mother come across a treasure map. Doctor Livesey (Otto Kruger), Squire Trelawney (Nigel Bruce), and Captain Smollet (Lewis Stone) hire a crew to sail the Hispaniola to Treasure Island and dig up the chests. Alas, half the crew are subordinates of the crafty, evil Long John Silver (Wallace Beery). There is a mutiny when the ship reaches the island. Jim is captured by one side and rescued by the other, and in-between he cuts the ships anchor lines and beaches her to save her from the pirates. A couple of fierce fire fights and one or two cutlass engagements ends with the good guys sailing away with the treasure and with Silver as a captive. Silver, cunning as ever, talks Jim into letting him go in Jamaica, rather than hang. We feel, though, that despite Silver's unsavory past, he genuinely likes Jim and Jim is optimist enough to believe what Silver says about reforming. Considerable sentiment in the scene, but not an excess.
No great acting skills are called for, and none are on display. Coogan isn't really believable. So few kids his age are. The most outrageous performance is given by Wallace Beery, with his big flabby mouth and his calculating eyes darting in all directions. Beery has been dismissed by critics as a big ham but I rather enjoy his overplaying, and he was in a couple of neat pictures, such as "China Seas." The story has been remade several times but this version strikes me as the best. Much of the humor depends on Beery's demeanor and Jim's naivte. Here's an exchange. Beery is the cook and is assembling dinner. Jim: "Doctor Livesy is no sailor but he can cut you up and sew you back together again." Beery: "That 'sewing up' part must be difficult." (The "cutting up" part doesn't faze him.) Jim: "But so's the cutting up." Beery: (Pauses a moment, looks thoughtful.) "Experience, Jim."
Stevenson's book still has the power to enchant a reader, even -- or maybe especially -- an adult. Jim Hawkins, the author of the narrative, is as naive as Candide or Matty Ross in "True Grit" and he misses some things an older person would pick up. Stevenson died young -- a tall, thin, ascetic-looking leptosome. He's buried now at Vailima, in Western Samoa, where he was known as "tusitala," which some have made sound like an honorific, whereas it just means "writer" or "someone who tells stories." (Good enough, I guess.) He borrowed some details of geography (eg., Spyglass Hill) from features of the terrain on the Monterey Peninsula, where he'd spent some time.
See the movie, and read the book too. It's short.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Copyright 7 August 1934 by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Corp. New York opening
at the Capitol: 17 August 1934. U.K. release: 22 December 1934.
Australian release: 19 December 1934. 11 reels. 109 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: Young Jim Hawkins tackles vicious Long John Silver.
VIEWERS' GUIDE: Suitable for all.
COMMENT: Young Cooper is not an overly convincing Jim Hawkins, but everyone else is absolutely brilliant in this outstandingly entertaining version of the Stevenson novel we all studied so assiduously at school. Why didn't they lighten our little hearts by showing us this terrific movie, for heaven's sake? Just plain mean, I guess. No doubt to-day's students have merely to call up the movie on the Internet making sure they specify this one and not the Robert Newton or Orson Welles interpretations. For fine as those actors are, they can't compare with Wallace Beery. In fact, Long John Silver was the role Beery was born to play. He is charmingly superb.
But Beery's is not the only performance-of-a-lifetime in this masterfully directed account of a Boy's Own mutiny and piracy. Lionel Barrymore's is the other really stand-out piece of acting. And we should also make a special laudatory mention of both William V. Mong's Pew and Charles McNaughton's Black Spot.
The rest of the players are no laggards either. What a cast! What a cast!
Maybe Chic Sale is a bit too "in character" as Ben Gunn. But as 99% of "Treasure Island" viewers will never have seen the old Chic before (even though he made at least a dozen other pictures), this is a ridiculous quibble.
At least director Victor Fleming is not an unknown quantity among school kids. Yes, this is just as good as Gone With The Wind or The Wizard of Oz or Captains Courageous or Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. In fact it's a darn sight better. Maybe I'm prejudiced because I'm a direct descendant of Robert Stevenson, Robert Louis Stevenson's grand- father, so bear that in mind!
AVAILABLE on an excellent Warner DVD.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
*Spoiler/plot- 1934, A boy and his mother have a country inn on the
ocean cliffs. An old sailor moves into the inn and is dying. He
befriends the son of the inn keeper with is stories of living on ships.
One night a strange blind man arrives and marks the old sailor for
death from a pirate brotherhood with the 'Black Spot'. During a cutlass
fight, the boy finds a treasure map in the sea chest of the dying
sailor. He takes the map to the local authorities who know about it and
set up a ship and crew to find the treasure. Once the ship,
'Hispaniola' leaves the port with mostly a secret pirate crew aboard;
they arrive at the Treasure Island. The crew takes over the ship and
attacks the obedient crew members trying to get the treasure for them.
A marooned sailor helps the obedient crew members to find and stow the
hidden treasure aboard the ship to go back to England for justice.
'Long' John Silver shows that he is an able conman, pirate, liar,
double-crosser, and schemer through this whole treasure hunting
*Special Stars- Wallace Beery, Jackie Cooper
*Theme- Men will look for treasure even if they suffer for it.
*Based on- Robert Louise Stevenson's famous pirate novel
*Trivia/location/goofs- There is a obvious film goof when Jim (Cooper) Hawkins goes to the Hispaniola's galley to speak to Long (Beery) John and stands at the galley door. You will clearly see a long microphone boom with sound cable shadow that hovers over the actor and top of the galley. In later years during Jackie Cooper interviews, he tells about Wallace Beery's antagonism and drinking during their scenes in this film. It seems Mr. Beery was not a lover of child actors much like W. C. Fields. Copper was pretty green in this film when it comes to his role and acting style.
*Emotion- Another fine remake of this classic pirate film. MGM was clearly reaping the bonus ticket prices by pairing these two leading men (older and boy) by casting them in this story. It was a perfect fit and very popular. The ending of this film is when 'Long John' is sailing away free in a long boat from being held responsible for the deaths, maroonment, piracy, and theft of treasure.
Yes, the pacing of this Metro picture may be a bit awkward but it's my favorite TREASURE ISLAND simply for the wonderful cast. Beery is just great as Silver, especially when compared to the truly horrible Robert Newton. Otto Kruger, Nigel Bruce and Lewis Stone add some genuine swashbuckling enthusiasm to their roles (Bruce did play a wonderful ass). And the collection of pirates - from Douglass Dumbrille to Ed Pawley to James Burke (for once, not an Irish cop!) to J. M. Kerrigan - really adds depth to the cadre of criminal seamen. My only complaint is that Harry Cording got short shrift. By the way, some trivia - the foppish singing pirate was played by Harry Bailey, who sang "Hooray For Charlie Kane" in CITIZEN KANE. Herbert Stothart's score makes great use of "Fifteen Men on a Dead Man's Chest", an early-century song based on the lines in Stevenson's novel. A winner.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
*This review applies to 103min version.
Former pirate Billy Bones boards at the seaside inn operated by Jim Hawkins and his mother and confides his dread of discovery by his old cohorts to the young boy. After Bones' death, Jim shares his treasure map with the reputable gentry, Dr. Livesey and Squire Trelawney, who organize an expedition to recover the buried loot. Long John Silver, a charming but ruthless rogue, is able to infiltrate the ship with his pirate co-conspirators and mercilessly murders loyal crew members. In the subsequent struggle with the mutineers over the buried gold, half-witted marooned pirate Ben Gunn may hold the key to victory.
A fun pirate movie for the whole family. If pirates are your thing, you should pretty much enjoy this.
Every generation sees a new adaption of Robert Louis Stevenson's
eternal classic Treasure Island. It's a timeless adventure story that
will always appeal to the young and young at heart. And it has one of
the great acting roles of all time, one you can really eat a whole
living room set with and still be in bounds.
For a scene stealing actor like Wallace Beery playing Long John Silver is no stretch at all. He dominates this version over the entire cast and as he's in most of the scenes after Lionel Barrymore as Captain Billy Bones dies and leaves his map to that intrepid band of treasure hunters. Barrymore gets his innings in as well as the bloodthirsty pirate captain who double-crossed his crew and had the presence of mind to die in Dorothy Peterson and Jackie Cooper's inn.
It's a real toss up between who is loudest, biggest eyerolling, larger than life Silver, be it Wallace Beery or Robert Newton in the later version done by Walt Disney. Both these men were remarkably similar in acting styles. But Beery was a cheap soul who had few friends in Hollywood and Newton was the life of that alcoholic party that was his life. I wouldn't want to choose which was better.
Beery and Cooper had their act down pat from The Champ. It's always a source of amazement to me how Cooper couldn't stand Beery and Beery among his dislikes was children in general. Yet you'd never know it seeing them together as Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver.
Otto Kruger as Dr. Livesey, Nigel Bruce as Squire Trelawney, and Lewis Stone as Captain Smollett are perfectly cast in their roles. But they really have trouble keeping up with Beery.
MGM gave the film the usual high gloss production values and Treasure Island is one of those films that always seems to be so right for screen that few variations are ever made on the book. A great tribute to the visual quality of Stevenson's writing.
And you can enjoy this and the Disney version for generations to come.
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