Treasure Island (1934)

Treasure Island (1934)

“We’ll always be mates, won’t we?”

When an alcoholic sea captain (Lionel Barrymore) visits and then dies at an inn run by a widow (Dorothy Peterson) and her son (Jackie Cooper), he leaves behind a coveted treasure map. Cooper sets sail on an adventure with Captain Smollet (Lewis Stone), Dr. Livesey (Otto Kruger), and Squire Trelawney (Nigel Bruce), also befriending a one-legged pirate known as Long John Silver (Wallace Beery).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • At Sea
  • Friendship
  • Gold Seekers
  • Hidden Treasure
  • Lionel Barrymore Films
  • Pirates
  • Victor Fleming Films
  • Wallace Beery Films

This first sound adaptation of Robert Louis Stephenson’s classic adventure tale re-paired MGM stars Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper — who first appeared together in The Champ (1931), then The Bowery (1933) — in a hokey retread of their “paternal bonding” from these earlier films. The cinematography and sets are appropriately atmospheric, but Beery’s over-acting and Cooper’s limited range severely hamper our ability to believe in this tale as anything other than a young boy’s fantasy writ large. (Why in the world was it considered appealing to have loutish, lying Beery take advantage of gullible Cooper time and again?) Film fanatics should check out Disney’s live action version instead.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
No, though fans of the book may be curious to check it out.


One thought on “Treasure Island (1934)

  1. First viewing. A once-must, for Victor Fleming’s direction and for Beery’s performance.

    I have a different take on this. Keeping in mind that I haven’t read the book – overall, this film generally feels like a respectable film version of a classic story. Working with 3 DPs, director Fleming ultimately seamlessly created engaging storytelling. I was impressed by how well the story was being told, esp. visually.

    That said, I feel the film *really* begins to kick in when Beery enters the picture. Beery (like Paul Muni) is someone who I previously did not think about all that much as an actor. But, having observed him a little more closely in recent years (like Muni), I’ve come to respect him more. This performance is a particular standout.

    Beery’s Long John Silver is a character unaccustomed to being around children – or, unaccustomed to being around a child that he takes to as much as he takes to Jim. This is noticeable when he enters the pub full of pirates who already know him – and who sense that something is up; he’s acting a little differently than usual around them but they trust him enough to play along with it to see where it leads (with the boy).

    Once or twice, when he is not around Jim (or the one occasion when Jim is hidden nearby), LJS acts more like himself and we then get a sense of how much more cunning he can be. But he’s different with Jim; he genuinely likes him, in spite of himself. Sure, he lies to him (he’s a pirate) – but he also likes him… so there are times when he’s not only protecting himself but also protecting Jim.

    I particularly liked watching a lot of Beery’s subtle character touches – which seemed to follow organically from his firm understanding of the kind of guy he was playing. He understands when and how to change his “tactics” (as he calls them) – and he certainly understands how to ‘catch more flies with honey’. A lot of his facial expressions are perfect!

    As for Cooper… his performance comes off as ‘professional’, for a child, but not exactly completely authentic. He didn’t particularly bother me but, as opposed to when I saw him with Beery elsewhere, here there were a number of times when his delivery reminded me of Shirley Temple (!).

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