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Treasure Island

Publication details ▽ Publication details △

Original title
The Sea Cook: A Story for Boys

First publication
18811882 in magazine Young Folks

First book publication
1883

Literature form
Novel

Genres
Literary, adventure, young adult

Writing language
English

Author's country
Scotland

Length
Approx. 67,000 words

Treasure Island (1934) scene
Jim Hawkins (Jackie Cooper), Long John Silver (Wallace Beery) and the parrot team up in 1934 movie.

Treasure Island

THE NOVEL | THE TEXT | THE MOVIES

1934, 1950, 1954, 1954, 19561957

 

A treasure map. A chest of gold hidden on a deserted island. A rascally one-legged pirate with a parrot on his shoulder, a curse of "Aargh!" in his throat, and a secretly good heart in his murderous bosom. Fifteen men on the dead man's chest, yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum....

Everyone knows what that's all about, whether or not they've read Treasure Island—or even know it's a book.

The world and characters of Treasure Island have become so embedded in our culture through movies and television—like the stories of King Arthur, Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe, Frankenstein and Dracula in all their permutations—that we can easily forget they aren't mythic but are founded in a relatively recent literary work. There's something about Stevenson's story, and particularly his creation of Long John Silver, that bears repeated telling in diverse media.

Filmmakers have proven unable to resist the temptation. Over sixty—and counting—adaptations of the novel, spin-offs, parodies and otherwise related works have been produced for film and TV, including several series in various languages around the world.

The silver-tongued, soft-hearted devil

Treasure Island (1934): Director Victor Fleming; writers John Lee Mahin, John Howard Lawson, Leonard Praskins; featuring Wallace Beery, Jackie Cooper, Lionel Barrymore, Nigel Bruce, Otto Kruger

The first movie production of Treasure Island in the sound era paired child star Jackie Cooper and gravel-voiced veteran Wallace Beery, both at the heights of their film-acting careers—and at the beginning of  a screen partnership that saw them co-star in at least four Hollywood movies.

The first part of the 1934 film though—a long segment taking pace at the Admiral Benbow Inn run by young Jim Hawkins and his mother—is nearly hijacked by Lionel Barrymore. As drunken seaman Billy Bones, hiding out from Silver's gang, terrorizing the locals, thrilling the lad with his tales, Barrymore is a terror. We're sorry when he's dispatched, as he must be.

The stage is taken over by the good but boring squire, doctor and captain who all go off with Jim on the hunt for Flint's treasure. Nigel Bruce, though, does get a couple of good bits of comedy in as Squire Trelawney. And of course the way is cleared for the that silver-tongued devil, Long John silver.

Beery (and isn't that a perfect name for the actor in this role) is at first as good a Silver as might be expected. He broadly acts the conniving scoundrel, posing as hard or soft as the situation requires.

Cooper, however, is grating for a viewer today. For one thing he's pudgy at age twelve and when he acts like a grownup, honest and wise beyond his years, he comes across as more pompous than cute. And why is he exclaiming "Bless my soul!" like an old man every few minutes?

In response, Beery then seems to overact the good-hearted bit, softening Silver too much, perhaps trying to compete with Cooper at winning the audience's sympathy.

By the end of the book, Jim wishes Long John well in this life because he knows the man is sure to roast in the next. By the end of the film though, we and Jim think of the former pirate as a lovable rascal who may yet find his way to heaven.

There are certainly many great aspects of this film. It's very faithful to the book as adaptations go. It's an exciting and well acted adventure. And director Victor Fleming uses black-and-white cinematography to enhance the black, white and grey strands of the story.

Treasure Island must have fired the imaginations of kids and adults alike at the time. And it set the template for later cinematic takes on the legend of Captain Flint's treasure.

— Eric McMillan

THE NOVEL | THE TEXT | THE MOVIES

1934, 1950, 1954, 1954, 19561957

See also:

Movies
Kidnapped

Movies
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Novel
Robinson Crusoe

Movies
Robinson Crusoe

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