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Thursday, October 24, 2019

Family Friendly Pirates


UK-Made Treasure Island (1950) from Disney

Walt Disney didn't think much of Bobby Driscoll as an actor, but used him as moppet lead in several live action ventures, and to model for cartoon characters (him the human counterpart for Peter Pan). Loaning Bobby to RKO for The Window made a better use of his talent, star-building not yet a Disney expertise (it needed television and more ambitious live-act features to launch Annette and Hayley Mills to come). Treasure Island was made in England with dollars frozen there, a consequence of $ export regulations implemented by hard-hit Brit lawmakers digging out of war ravage. Treasure Island is stolidly faithful to what must be a pretty labored book. Disney used Byron Haskin to direct, but controlled proceeds from a West Coast 6000 miles away. He visited the location but briefly. Haskin did not recall the Great Man sprinkling genius over this show, but Disney may have seen UK output (a feature group done there, all period costumed) as mere expediency, getting lots more for dollars than could be had filming in the US, post-war inflation having sent stateside costs skyward.




A capable Brit cast gives Treasure Island nice Classics Illustrated flavor. I bet this one got rented a lot via non-theatrical arms; surprised, in fact, at not seeing it myself in school. Attention-getter at the time was Robert Newton, letting 'er rip as Long John Silver, and likeliest source of pleasure for kids who might have been bored with the rest. Treasure Island was grouped with Disney's second True-Life Adventure short, Beaver Valley, plus a new cartoon (Motor Mania in most ads I consulted), so patronage got more than money's worth. Here was a family night at movies for 1950, and a turning point for Disney constructing not just a feature, but an entire and balanced program, for his following. Treasure Island having been made at bargain neg cost of $1.3 million opened doors to whale of a profit --- worldwide rentals would top four million. Warm recollection of that may have inspired a surprise mid-seventies reissue, from which a close-up pirate shot full in the face was trimmed so as to avert a dread PG rating. The snip made for jocular trade reportage at the time. Who knew Disney had such violent skeletons in its family closet?

6 Comments:

Blogger Mark Mayerson said...

That final ad is for theatres in Toronto, Ontario. The Eglinton at Avenue Road still exists as a building with a marquee, but is no longer showing movies. It's available to rent for events.

8:46 AM  
Blogger Beowulf said...

I was only mildly surprised to learn that all that "Ar-r-r-r, Matey" stuff that we associate with "doing" a pirate comes from Robert Newton's over-the-top performance as Long John Silver.
I was a bit masochistic as a child, so the scene where the lad shoots the pirate in the face while getting a dirk in the shoulder was my favorite. I always like horror comix and adventure films where the hero had a small drip of blood at the corner of his mouth.

11:22 AM  
Blogger Michael J. Hayde said...

Interesting timing, John. Read your interesting piece about an Uncle Walt oldie just after finishing this coverage of modern-day Disney serving up bad news to exhibitors over library titles:

https://www.vulture.com/amp/2019/10/disney-is-quietly-placing-classic-fox-movies-into-its-vault.html

1:26 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Loved this as a kid. Loved the TV series LONG JOHN SILVER with Newton. Still love it.

6:02 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

SEMI-FLASH: "The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh", pertinent because the theatrical cut was paired with "Treasure Island" in the 70s, is being released as a Disney Movie Club exclusive Blu-Ray. The blurb implies it'll be the original three-part television version. Till now the only official release had been the old Walt Disney Treasures DVD, an insanely expensive (at the moment) eBay item.

As for the all-Disney program: How much control or influence did the Disney brothers have over how RKO sold their wares? The all-Disney program feels like a Disney idea: Reportedly Walt Disney himself had to arrange for a theater to show "Seal Island" before RKO could be convinced to distribute it. But once the True Life Adventures took off the all-Disney show still might have been an RKO-conceived sales strategy.

During the RKO years, could exhibitors still book True Life Adventures or "Treasure Island" itself with non-Disney product? In the Buena Vista age, did the Disney program become the rule?

6:22 PM  
Blogger Lou Lumenick said...

TREASURE ISLAND made its US TV debut as a two-part presentation on ABC's "Disneyland series'' 1/5-12/55. It was broadcast in black and white.

9:03 PM  

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