Walt Disney’s first fully live-action film came about more from necessity than from a business plan. Both Disney and distributor RKO had a sizeable amount of British pounds tied up in the UK after World War II.
Government restrictions prevented Disney from taking the money out of the country, so he decided to use it to make a movie.
Shooting entirely in England and adding only one American – young Disney contract player Bobby Driscoll (Song of the South, So Dear to My Heart) – to the otherwise all-British cast, Disney set about adapting Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure classic Treasure Island to the screen.
The early goings-on follow Stevenson’s book fairly faithfully. At a coastal Inn, pirate Black Dog (Francis De Wolff) comes to deliver a message to Captain Billy Bones (Finlay Currie).
As the old captain dies, he passes a treasure map on to the innkeeper’s young son, Jim Hawkins (Bobby Driscoll), who hooks up with local bigwigs Doctor Livesy (Denis O’Dea) and Squire Trelawney (Walter Fitzgerald) for a treasure hunt.
Boarding Captain Smollet’s (Basil Sydney) ship, the Hispaniola, Jim meets one-legged cook Long John Silver (Robert Newton), who takes an instant liking to the boy.
But Silver has an ulterior motive. He and most of the crew have planned a mutiny, hoping to find the treasure themselves. When the dust settles from the mutiny, Silver and his band follow the map to the treasure, with Jim in tow.
A series of scrapes and double-crosses follow, culminating in a tough moral dilemma for young Jim.
British actor Robert Newton made such a splash as Long John Silver that he became forever identified with the role, playing one pirate or another for much of the rest of his career, including the excellent Australian children’s TV series, The Adventures of Long John Silver (1955).
The ending of the film was changed from Stevenson’s original to highlight the relationship between Jim and Long John, but the adventurous spirit remained the same.
So did the action, so much so that the film’s violence earned it a PG rating from the MPAA in its 1975 US re-release.
Not wanting a PG blemish on its otherwise G-rated family record, Disney edited out a few offending scenes to get the desired rating.
In 1992, with the PG stigma no longer an issue (thanks to taboo breakers like The Watcher in the Woods and The Black Hole), Disney released a video version of Treasure Island in its original, uncut form.
Long John Silver
Capt. Billy Bones
Francis De Wolff