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The fifth film adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel of the same name, and the first version with sound, Treasure Island (1934) opens at a rowdy, sea-side pub where we are introduced to the young Jim Hawkins (Jackie Cooper). He is held spellbound by a tale of buried treasure told by a drunken Billy Bones (Lionel Barrymore) who also holds the map to the gold. After Billy Bones dies, young Cooper liberates the map and hooks up with Dr. Livesey (Otto Kruger) and Squire Trelawney (Nigel Bruce), promising them untold riches. The trio book passage on a ship run by Captain Smollett (Lewis Stone) and are befriended by none other than Long John Silver ( Wallace Beery). Quickly making friends with the map-holding lad, Silver secretly devises an elaborate double-cross, which begins as soon as they reach the island. First, he stages a mutiny with his gang of cutthroats against the unsuspecting captain and the three gold digging passengers. Then he steals the map. But there's a big surprise in store for Long John when he reaches the buried treasure site.
An adrenaline-pumping tale for boys that was popular long before the appearance of heroic adventurers like Indiana Jones, Treasure Island was altered slightly to please MGM chief Louis B. Mayer. Having never read the book or the shooting script, Mayer was distressed at the lack of a happy ending. To make matters worse, there was no scene of little Jackie Cooper crying - his signature in those days. Insisting that audiences wanted both a happy ending, and waterworks from Cooper, Mayer demanded re-shoots resulting in the film as seen today. But the re-shoots did not come easy. Beery, who was no walk in the park under the best circumstances, resented being summoned back to play a supporting role in Cooper's scene, so he did his best to be difficult. He would blow lines, and he would stall by hiding out in his dressing room, or excusing himself to the restroom immediately after he appeared on set. When all was said and done, Beery managed to stretch a two and a half page scene, scheduled for just one day of shooting, into nearly a week.
All in all, the film delivers on its promise of intrigue and imagination, fueled by John Lee Mahin's screenplay, and Victor Fleming's direction. Variety noted when the film was released that "Fleming's direction has some exceptionally fine photographic effects - effects that can't help but impress." This was no doubt excellent training for Fleming before going on to direct impressive spectacles like The Wizard Of Oz (1939), and Gone With The Wind (1939). And just like those later epics, Treasure Island is an awful lot of fun and appeals to the adventurer in all of us.
Director: Victor Fleming
Producer: Hunt Stromberg
Screenplay: John Lee Mahin, John Howard Lawson (uncredited), Leonard Praskins (uncredited), based on the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson
Cinematography: Clyde DeVinna, Ray June, Harold Rosson
Editor: Blanche Sewell
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons, Merril Pye (associate)
Music: Herbert Stothart
Cast: Wallace Beery (Long John Silver), Jackie Cooper (Jim Hawkins), Lionel Barrymore (Billy Bones), Otto Kruger (Dr. Livesey), Lewis Stone (Capt. Smollett), Nigel Bruce (Squire Trelawney)
BW-104m. Close captioning. Descriptive Video.
by Bill Goodman