Treasure Island (1934)
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that there are fatal shootings and stabbings, and one intense scene when a horse-drawn carriage turns a pirate into roadkill. One scene even has pedophile overtones, but it will likely go over most kids' heads. The pirates are also pretty deep into the grog. When one of them dies, it's hard to determine if he was slain by his mates or alcohol poisoning. Young hero Jim Hawkins is threatened with death on occasion, though Long John serves as his protector, and Jim later returns the favor.
What's the story?
In MGM's 1934 film adaptation of TREASURE ISLAND, fatherless 13-year-old Brit Jim Hawkins (Jackie Cooper) runs a seaside tavern and inn with his mother in the 1700s. Tenant and ex-pirate Billy Bones (Lionel Barrymore) warns Jim to watch out for his associates, especially a one-legged man, then gives Jim a map of an island where the legendary pirate Flint buried his treasure. A gang of buccaneers visit to get information out of Bones, who dies. Jim alerts local authorities, who decide to recover the treasure themselves, but they aren't seafarers, so they hire Long John Silver (Wallace Beery), a crippled, well-connected old salt who can get a seasoned crew together on short notice. Jim is suspicious, but Long John eventually wins the boy over. They're well underway when Jim overhears the awful truth. Long John and his mates are pirates who plan to steal the map and kill everyone else. After the ship reaches the island, Jim bounces back and forth between the two armed factions, the mutinous pirates flying the Jolly Roger and the stalwart Englishmen and those seamen loyal to them.
Is it any good?
Robert Lewis Stevenson's story remains a compelling storyline, and this telling, despite its age, moves quite nimbly and has some great full-scale schooners. Still, a lot of key moments seem to happen off-camera, and the narrative has been re-rigged to deviate from the novel and give much quality time to Cooper and Beery. All-American Beery seems a trifle unlikely as Long John Silver, but as Jim Hawkins, young Jackie Cooper is terrific and really takes charge of the screen.
The question is always whether Long John is secretly as fond of Jim as he claims, or is the crafty pirate leader just using the kid as a pawn and human shield? The easygoing Long John explains his thieving, even murderous ways to the boy as just "tactics" and talks casually about killing off his pirate-shipmates to make greater shares of loot for everyone. Jim Hawkins tearfully refuses to accept that -- yet he still grows to love Long John.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about Jim's relationship to Long John. Do you think Jim has done the right thing in the end? Long John is endlessly flattering and complimentary to the boy -- yet he uses the same flowery language with an adult sailor, and casually kills that same man when he won't join the pirate mutiny. Do you think Long John has changed by the end? Why do you think pirate yarns were popular in the 1930s and are still popular today? How does this version of the tale compare to the book or other versions?