Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Treasure Island (1972)

          As is true of most films with which Orson Welles was associated, this European adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1883 adventure novel boasts a behind-the-scenes saga that’s more interesting than the film itself. As for the movie, it’s a mostly adequate treatment of Stevenson’s tale, albeit one hampered by bland direction, forgettable supporting performances, sluggish pacing, and wretched dubbing. Yet even with these massive shortcomings, Treasure Island is not unpleasant to watch. The story is full of exotic locations, larger-than-life characters, plentiful violence, and tantalizing mysteries. In 18th-century England, young Jim Hawkins (Kim Burfield) helps his mother run a pub. One day, a crude old sailor named Billy Bones (Lionel Stander) shows up with grand talk of nautical adventures and grave warnings about a nefarious man with one leg. Before dying, Billy gives Jim a treasure map, so Jim signs on with local officials for a sea voyage to seek the treasure. Among the crew hired for the trek is a rascal named Long John Silver (Welles), who just happens to have only one leg. Inevitably, Silver leads a mutiny because he wants to steal the treasure for himself. And so it goes from there. Stevenson’s narrative holds up as well here as it does in myriad other screen adaptations, so there’s no disputing the innate allure of the material.
         Nonetheless, while watching this version of Treasure Island, one constantly feels the impact of behind-the-scenes shenanigans. Welles tried for years to mount the film as writer, director, and star, but by the time the financing came together, Welles had botched so many projects that he was unemployable as a filmmaker. Despite this disappointment, he remained involved as the project’s top-billed actor, and his long-shelved screenplay was used as the basis for the heavily rewritten final script—note the pseudonym “O.W. Jeeves” in the credits. The project’s money people assembled passable production values but skimped on casting, so the movie’s energy drains whenever Welles is offscreen. Worse, the energy often drains even when Welles is onscreen, because while dubbing his lines during post-production, Welles provided line readings so garbled and quiet that his dialogue is frequently incomprehensible. Sadly, Treasure Island provides yet another reminder that few people surpassed the former boy wonder in the fine art of self-destructive behavior. As a result, one can’t help but imagine what a full-blooded Welles interpretation of Silver might have been like—just as one can’t help but imagine how much more vibrant the picture would have been with Welles in the director’s chair.

Treasure Island: FUNKY


OthelloNGa said...

Sure would love to have seen his version. Damn shame HE robbed US of that!

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