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Warner Home Video presents
Treasure Island (1934)

"Them of you that dies'll be lucky."
- Long John Silver (Wallace Beery)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: October 23, 2006

Stars: Wallace Beery, Jackie Cooper, Lionel Barrymore
Other Stars: Otto Kruger, Lewis Stone, Nigel Bruce, Charles "Chic" Sale, William V. Mong, Charles McNaughton, Dorothy Peterson
Director: Victor Fleming

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence and some disturbing imagery)
Run Time: 01h:42m:43s
Release Date: October 10, 2006
UPC: 012569793712
Genre: adventure

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- A-B+C+ B-

DVD Review

Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island has been the basis for many a piratical movie, but this 1934 version is generally regarded as the best of the extant ones (Lon Chaney's 1920 version is lost). It reunites the hugely popular team of Wallace Beery and young Jackie Cooper from The Champ (1931), and adds in a superb supporting cast to boot. With Victor Fleming, director of many of the greatest films of the 1930s, at the helm, there's sure entertainment here, me hearties.

The picture is reasonably faithful to Stevenson's original yarn, with large patches of dialogue lifted straight from the book. Young Jim Hawkins (Cooper) helps his mother (Dorothy Peterson) at the Admiral Benbow Inn near Bristol, England. A fearful seafarer with a mysterious sea chest, Billy Bones (Lionel Barrymore) holes up in the inn, but he is soon pursued by Blind Pew (William V. Mong), bearing the piratical death sentence, the Black Spot. Discovering that the sea chest holds a map to the treasure of pirate Captain Flint, Jim takes it to Squire Trelawney (Nigel Bruce) and Dr. Livesey (Otto Kruger), who determine that they should hire a ship, the Hispaniola, with Jim in tow, retrieve the treasure. But they don't count on their one-legged cook, Long John Silver (Beery), who befriends Jim, but is in reality the leader of the gang of pirates who form the bulk of the ship's crew. High adventure ensues on the high seas, matey. Arrr.

Beery is marvelous as Silver, all bluster and devious charm. The one-legged effect works quite well, and he maneuvers with his ungainly crutch as if he had in fact been using it for years. Cooper is reasonable for a child actor of the 1930s, though he does have a tendency to be a bit pouty and overenthusiastic for his age. He does handle himself capably in dealing with the pirates, and that works mainly due to the fact he's dripping with spunkiness. His chemistry with Beery is undeniable, though, especially as the man works the boy's gullibility and trust. Barrymore is quite unlike his usual upper-crust character roles, and does fine work with the boozy terror of Billy Bones. He's ominously threatening as he forces the residents of the inn to join him in sea chanteys. Charles Sales' interpretation of mad Ben Gunn is way over the top and a bit laughable. Nigel Bruce makes for good comic relief, which a few years later would become his stock in trade opposite Basil Rathbone in the Sherlock Holmes series. Lewis Stone is as usual suitably grim as Captain Smollett, ready to hoist any man jack from the yardarms.

The effects are uneven at best. The Hispaniola itself is beautifully recreated, and there are many shots that allow loving admiration of the ship and its rigging. In contrast, the background aboard the ship is often presented via dodgy rear projection, and on the island itself painted backgrounds are often plainly visible. It's a shame that what is such an otherwise well-realized picture is hampered by these distracting concessions to Louis Mayer's cheapness. The scurvy dog.

Although it is a movie told primarily from young Jim Hawkins' perspective, and is targeted at children, this is a pre-Code film. As such, there is quite a lot of violence, and in particular a very graphic (almost appallingly detailed) sequence of a character being run over by Dr. Livesey's carriage. There's plenty of gunplay and swordfighting, though the latter isn't too bloody. Fleming has a great sense of action pacing, and the three major climactic sequences have plenty of suspense and, while rapidly cut, are quite easy to follow. Despite its limitations, this is first-rate filmmaking, and an essential classic for any lover of pirate movies. Avast, yo ho ho, and keep it safe in your dead man's chest.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The source print for this transfer is in beautiful shape. Other than a few nicks here and there, little damage is visible. There are a few stray hairs in the gate, but that is plainly a flaw with the original, not the transfer. Grain is a bit heavy, and tends to sparkle at times, which is the only serious problem with the transfer. Greyscale is excellent, though a few scenes are a bit too dark. Detail is fine, especially in the more brightly lit sequences.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Moderate hiss is audible throughout, but it is fairly constant and thus quickly blends into the background. Range is limited, as one would expect for a picture from the early 1930s, with no bass to speak of. The 2.0 mono track has reasonably good presence, and Herbert Stothart's score sounds decent for its era.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:53m:13s

Extra Extras:
  1. Three short films
Extras Review: The only extra specifically related to Treasure Island is a somewhat worn trailer. However, given the rarity of original trailers from this period, it's certainly welcome. The bulk of the extras are three shorts from 1934 that work well in tandem with the feature (though two of them are post-Code). The Spectacle Maker (20m:04s) is a moral fairy tale about a lensmaker who makes a great deal of money from a lens that makes everything look beautiful. When he makes a companion lens that shows the truth, he finds himself condemned to death, making it a tale for our time indeed. It's a Colortone musical, though the color is a bit uneven in its vividness. It is a very attractive print, however, and certainly a fascinating use of full color in the early 1930s.

Strikes and Spares is one of the classic Pete Smith Oddities (8m:43s), and here Smith compares a trick bowling champion with a rank and clumsy amateur. There is a bit of racial humor at the expense of the pinsetter, but not too overt. This short was Oscar-nominated, for those collecting such items. Finally, Tale of the Vienna Woods is a cartoon version of the Strauss waltz, teaming a fawn in the Vienna Woods with... a faun of legend. It's mostly given to their comic frolicking, but turns tense as a pack of dogs sights the fawn. The animation is nothing special, so the cartoon is interesting mostly as an historical artifact.

Extras Grade: B-


Final Comments

Well worth your pieces of eight, Treasure Island finally reaches DVD in an attractive transfer, with several supporting shorts from 1934 as further booty.


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