Treasure Island [50 Films Older Than Me #5]

Just lately, it was my birthday! And to add to all the real life goals and challenges that that brings, I’ve created at least one as it relates to movies and this blog–watch a film I’ve never seen before which came out in each year of the fifty years before I was born, and then write a bit about it.  This is Post #5. 

Spoilers ahead.  

Treasure Island

Directed by Byron Haskins

Release Year:  1950 (20 years before I was born)

What it is about:  After acquiring a pirate’s map, young Jim Hawkins gets involved in a hunt for treasure, along with Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesy, and Captain Smollett. However, former pirate Long John Silver manages to get hired as a cook for the ship and to fill the crew with his people. As they arrive at the island where the treasure is hidden, the pirates mutiny and take over the ship, with the loyal crew members hiding out on the island. Jim becomes instrumental helping to win the ship back over for the captain. The other pirates want to kill young Jim, but Silver, who has grown fond of the boy, protects him. The pirates are all killed, but Silver ultimately escapes.

Starring Bobby Driscoll as Jim Hawkins, Robert Newton as Long John Silver, Basil Sidney as Captain Smollett, Walter Fitzgerald as Squire Trelawney, Denis O’Dea as Dr. Livesy, Ralph Truman as George Merry (one of the pirates), Geoffrey Wilkinson as Ben Gunn (a marooned former sailor who has found and hidden the treasure) and Finlay Currie as Captain Billy Bones, the former pirate who originally gives Jim the map. Patrick Troughton from Doctor Who has a small role as a pirate.

My impressions of this movie before I watched it:  I didn’t really know anything about the movie except what I learned putting together this list. I knew it was a live action Disney film, I had some familiarity with the plot of Treasure Island from other adaptations, and I knew Patrick Troughton was in it somewhere. With all of that, I didn’t expect to find it any good at all.

Reality: When I think of old live action Disney, I tend to think of silly adventure-comedies, like Candleshoe or Hot Lead and Cold Feet–movies I would have enjoyed as a little kid but which now would be a bit of an exercise in perseverance to get through. So going into Treasure Island, I really wasn’t expecting much. I didn’t pick it because I was expecting to like it, but just because I wanted to include an example of Disney live-action in this series of viewings. I also noticed the film because Patrick Troughton was in it, but I knew it was small so I wasn’t expecting much there as well.

Well, it turns out I was wrong on both counts–Treasure Island is a good film, and though Patrick Troughton’s part is small, it’s memorable.

Of course, Treasure Island, which is actually Disney’s first fully live action feature, is still a kids’ adventure film, but one which is layered not with silly antics or jokes, but with a genuine sense of tension and danger. Robert Newton is memorable as the colorful Long John Silver, in equal parts a charming rogue and a despicable villain. It’s actually quite impressive that the movie and the actor are able to craft a character who is simultaneously so likable and so despicable. It’s a tone critical to making the story work.

Bobby Driscoll does a fine job as the earnest and eager Jim Hawkins, playing well both his hero worship of Silver, and his disappointment at his betrayal. The young actor has good screen presence, providing a good point of view character for the audience, and drawing us right into the peril contained in the movie’s plot.

These two central performances make a strong emotional foundation for film’s lavish production. The early village scenes feel a bit stage-bound, but once the story gets us onto the ocean and the island, the effect is pretty transporting. There are some cliched gen re elements throughout the film, including Long John Silver’s affected pirate speech and the antics of the island’s resident crazy man, Ben Gunn, but all that’s pretty forgivable when you remember that this story probably invented much of that.

And if you do tune into this movie to see Doctor Who‘s very own Patrick Troughton, you won’t be disappointed. His part is small, but he has a featured sequence during one battle where he nearly kills Jim Hawkins before being knocked out by Jim’s friend Dr. Livesy (the Doctor is knocked out by a doctor!)

Troughton is vicious and menacing in the part, a bit reminiscent of his performance as the Salamander, the Doctor’s evil duplicate in the serial The Enemy of the World.

So…when you get down to it, what did I think? Treasure Island holds up remarkably well as an example of high seas adventure that is fun for kids while also trusting in its own material sufficiently so that an older audience can take it seriously enough to appreciate. All around, an excellent piece of work.

See here for the Master List.

2 thoughts on “Treasure Island [50 Films Older Than Me #5]

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