Treasure Island

Film and television productions based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson:

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

Treasure Island (1950)
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Director Byron Haskin; writer Lawrence Edward Watkin; featuring Bobby Driscoll, Robert Newton, Basil Sydney, Walter Fitzgerald

Return to Treasure Island (1954)
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Director Ewald André Dupont; writers Jack Pollexfen, Aubrey Wisberg; featuring Tab Hunter, Dawn Addams

Long John Silver (1954)
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Also called Long John Silver's Return to Treasure Island
Director Byron Haskin; writer Martin Rackin; featuring Robert Newton, Rod Taylor, Connie Gilchrist, Kit Taylor

The Adventures of Long John Silver (1956–1957)
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TV series: Featuring Robert Newton, Connie Gilchrist, Kit Taylor

MOVIE COMMENTARY

Treasure Island (1934) scene

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

Establishing the pirate treasure legend

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

The first movie production of the sound era of Treasure Island in 1934 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 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

MOVIE COMMENTARY

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Treasure Island
(1934, DVD)
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Related pages:

Novel
Treasure Island

Author
Robert Louis Stevenson

Movies
Kidnapped

Movies
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

See also:

Novel
Robinson Crusoe

Movies
Robinson Crusoe

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Treasure Island
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Kidnapped
(1948, DVD)
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USCanUK

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
(1931 and 1941, DVD)
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Robinson Crusoe
(1954, DVD)
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USCanUK