Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Treasure of Matecumbe (1976)

          An adventure saga that steals elements from the fiction of Robert Louis Stevenson, Mark Twain, and others—then shoots those elements through the simplistic prism of the Walt Disney Productions house style—Treasure of Matecumbe is as amiable as it is disposable. Even though costar Peter Ustinov gives a lively supporting performance as a kindly flimflam man, problems including dodgy racial portrayals and tiresome plot twists keep the movie mired in the muck of mediocrity.
          Based on a novel by Robert Lewis Taylor and directed by reliable Disney hand Vincent McEveety, the movie takes place in the pre-Civil War South. The action begins at a Kentucky estate owned by two spinsters. Ben (Robert DoQui), who used to work at the estate, arrives suddenly and delivers a treasure map to the estate’s youngest resident, the spinsters’ young nephew Davie (Johnny Doran). Ben tells Davie to seek out a long-lost uncle for help recovering the treasure. As per the Disney norm, Davie needs cash to rescue his estate from financial ruin. Soon after Ben’s arrival, thugs led by the dastardly Captain Spangler (Vic Morrow) arrive to seize the treasure map by force. The spinsters help Davie escape with his best friend, Thad (Billy “Pop” Atmore), but Ben is killed during the fight with Spangler and his men. Thus Davie and Thad are off on their adventure.
          As should be evident, the plot is absurdly overstuffed, allowing McEveety to fill the screen with noisy action (and trite comedic bits) rather than delving into anything heavy. Eventually, the story broadens to include Davie’s traveling companions—the aforementioned con artist (Ustinov), a runaway bride (Joan Hackett), and, of course, the long-lost uncle (Robert Foxworth). Seeing as how Treasure of Matecumbe is a G-rated romp, the story contains surprisingly rough material. Beyond the implied element of racism, Treasure of Matecubme includes murder, attempted gang rape, an attempted lynching by the Ku Klux Klan, the desecration of Native American burial grounds, and the transformation of white hostages into “squaws” by Native American captors. (Viewers are told that “squaws” means “slaves” in this context, but . . .)
          Treasure of Matecumbe never wants for stimulation, since the movie has riverboat intrigue, a deadly tropical storm, chases through forests, and so on. It’s all silly hokum reconstituted from silly hokum that came before, but at least whenever Ustinov is onscreen—spewing polysyllabic prevarications with characteristic panache—Treasure of Matecumbe becomes the sort of frothy escapism that, the rest of the time, it merely echoes.

Treasure of Matecumbe: FUNKY


Marty McKee said...

That's one helluva poster though.

Unknown said...

Attempted gang rape? Joan Hackett's character tells the Klan, who wish to harm the young Davie for saving his uncle from their noose, "Over my dead body," to which the leader replies, "If that's what you want, ain't nobody here gonna fuss, lady." That's about the only nod in the general direction of gang rape that I can think of, unless the Irwin Allen-esque mosquito attack on our heroes later on counts.

Unknown said...

Now that I think about it, you probably mean the supply-dock scene in which a shaggy band of two-stepping shit kickers dance fervently with the heroine, tossing her about like a rag doll. I guess in the Disney bio-dome of G-rated violence, that's "fun for the whole family," a hoedown gone haywire COULD be construed as a gang bang. That particular scene always has me saying, "This pointless musical moment is brought to you by Frontier Land. Visit the Magic Kingdom today!"

Creg said...

The supply dock scene.