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Return to Treasure Island(1954)

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teaser Return to Treasure Island (1954)

From the title Return to Treasure Island (1954) and various film resources about it, you might be tricked into thinking this is a sequel to the Disney classic Treasure Island (1950), the one with Robert Newton doing his best "aaargh" as Long John Silver and child star Bobby Driscoll as Robert Louis Stevenson's young hero, Jim Hawkins. You'd be wrong, of course, but that's understandable. Newton did return as Silver in the Australian-produced Long John Silver (1954), which is now often aired as Return to Treasure Island or as Long John Silver's Return to Treasure Island. To complicate matters further, if you look on one comprehensive online film resource for the plot summary of this picture, you'll actually get a synopsis of Long John Silver. Furthermore, there is a TV movie, a series, and a Russian film all bearing the Return to... title, and all actually dealing with the original characters in some way. On top of all that, some online sources erroneously claim Newton plays Silver in this movie's flashback prologue.

Confused? Well, here is some more information to muddy the waters. Return to Treasure Island is, in a sense, a sequel to the R.L. Stevenson classic, albeit a modern-day one. The film begins with a flashback to the 1700s as Captain Flint, Silver's long-ago nemesis, returns to the island, kills Silver, and buries more loot. Flash forward 200 years later, where Jim Hawkins female descendant, Jamesina "Jamie" Hawkins, is lured back to the island to find the treasure by a man claiming to be American writer and pirate expert Clive Stone. Once on the island, however, Jamie runs into the real Clive, who was marooned there by the imposter about a year earlier. He and Jamie must team up to defeat the would-be treasure thieves and claim the booty for their own.

Because Jamie is played by the shapely young British starlet Dawn Addams and the real Clive is portrayed by teen heartthrob Tab Hunter, romance also ensues (Hunter is shirtless throughout the picture, to the delight of his fans, and with a fake beard for part of it, to the delight of no one). In this, his fourth movie and his first top-billed appearance on screen, Hunter took a big leap forward to become one of the most popular matinee idols of the 1950s, although in his autobiography, Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star, he offered this assessment: "There are bad movies...then there's Return to Treasure Island."

Hunter was cast in the movie by producer Aubrey Wisberg, who had written the original story for his previous film, The Steel Lady (1953). The daughter of a New York associate of Wisberg's kept harping on him to cast Hunter in his next movie. The young actor was reunited with the director of The Steel Lady, E.A. Dupont, one of the founders of the German film industry whose illustrious career had descended from the acclaimed silent Variet (aka Jealousy, 1925) to this, his last picture (although he did write the screenplay for two more movies over the next few years). According to Hunter, Dupont declared the adventure "the biggest piece of sh*t I've ever directed in my life' and the star's own mother is credited with bolting from the lobby after the screening declaring her son's performance to be "lousy."

Hunter's opinion aboutReturn to Treasure Island may not be the last word on it; his autobiography, after all, had many negative things to say about Hollywood and some of the movies he made there, certainly understandable coming from someone whose teen idol status was completely manufactured and forced him to hide his homosexuality for much of his life. It certainly didn't hurt his career at all; his next two movies were major productions: William Wellman's Track of the Cat (1954) with Robert Mitchum and Raoul Walsh's war drama Battle Cry (1955).

As for Addams, Hunter saysReturn to Treasure Island prompted her to marry an Italian nobleman and move to Italy, where she continued her career on the big screen and British television until her death at the age of 54 in 1985.

The location shoot for the eponymous island was the California coast at Palos Verdes. Return to Treasure Island was not the first pirate movie for the writer-producer team of Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen. Earlier, they had released Captain Kidd and the Slave Girl (1954), with young Eva Gabor of Green Acres TV fame playing opposite Anthony Dexter's infamous pirate.

Director: E.A. Dupont
Producers: Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen
Screenplay: Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen, based on characters created by Robert Louis Stevenson
Cinematography: William Bradford
Editing: Fred R. Feitshans, Jr.
Original Music: Paul Sawtell
Cast: Tab Hunter (Clive Stone), Dawn Addams (Jamie Hawkins), Porter Hall (Maximillian Harris), James Seay (Felix Newman), Harry Lauter (Parker).
C-76m.

by Rob Nixon

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