Scary Factor: lots of adventure, threatening situations too numerous to count; sword battles, shooting, mutiny; Jim fights a pirate and is wounded before he shoots the pirate in the face
Also: much drinking of rum (only by adults)
Interests: pirates, action, adventure, ships, islands, treasure, British history
Next: other pirate films Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk; books Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Robinson Crusoe
Young Jim Hawkins is entrusted with a treasure map by an old sailor named Billy Bones, just before his old pirate mates come looking for it. Jim shows it to the local squire and doctor, who plan a voyage to find the treasure. Unfortunately their hastily hired crew is infiltrated by unreliable ex-pirates, led by Long John Silver, the ship’s cook. Long John becomes good friends with Jim, but when the boy overhears the pirates plotting to mutiny, he sides with the captain. Reaching the island, the pirates take the ship while the Captain’s men take refuge on shore. After some fighting back and forth, Jim sneaks out to the ship, guarded by only two men. Fighting over rum, one pirate kills another, then discovers Jim. He wounds him with a knife but Jim shoots the man and successfully takes back the ship. Meanwhile Long John’s men have found the treasure chests empty, and begin fighting among themselves. The treasure has been hidden elsewhere by Ben Gunn, the one pirate abandoned on the island when the treasure was buried, and Ben turns the gold over to the Captain. John is captured by the Captain’s party, but as they leave the island he manages to escape with some gold in a small boat. Jim has a chance to shoot him but finds he cannot do it and the scoundrel rows off.
I fear I haven’t done justice to the tremendous adventure plot of Robert Louis Stevenson, but there are the bare bones. This Disney version is surprisingly gritty and true to the book. The pirates are convincingly filthy and dodgy looking, if not quite as outrageously so as the characters in the modern Pirates of the Caribbean series. The violence is true to the time the film was made (1950), that is to say it’s not gratuitous or gore-filled, but done in the spirit of a great adventure story. There is a lot of fighting, stabbings, shootings, bodies… but if you want Treasure Island, well, that’s what it’s all about!
The scene in which Jim takes the ship back is a little shocking but really suspenseful and exciting as the young boy is pitted against a pirate, face to face. The pirate throws a knife, which wounds Jim in the shoulder, but the boy manages to shoot him in the face. Sounds horrible, but it’s presented fully from the boy’s perspective, exciting and terrible all at once.
The biggest struggle of the film occurs as an interior one, as Jim fights against his fondness for his friend Long John Silver. The old pirate is equally winning and repellant to the viewer too. The actor, Robert Newton, plays Long John so broadly and over-the-top that he set the standard for all pirates to follow; he’s the man we can all blame for all that arrrr-type pirate talk. My favourite moment from him is when his own men turn on him over the empty treasure chests, and he shoots them, ending up by flinging his crutch at the last one. Ah, pirates!
Violence: quite a lot, but not gratuitous, no gore. Some of worst stuff was removed for a 1975 re-release to get a G rating, but these scenes were put back into the 1992 video release. All violent actions have consequences, in wounds or deaths. The young hero Jim is wounded in the shoulder by a thrown knife, and has the injury treated by the ship’s doctor.
Booze: Quite prominent throughout. At the start old Billy Bones drinks against his doctor’s advice, and his death (heart attack?) is probably due to it in part at least. As the Commonsense Media review puts it, at least drinking isn’t glorified! All along the journey rum plays a role in the action, as the pirates constantly clamour for it, and fight over it. Rum is used as a weapon, too, as Long John gets the first mate drunk, with the result that he falls overboard.
In conclusion: A classic adventure story gets a good, straight-ahead treatment. Fair amount of swashbuckling violence is necessary to the story and not too gruesome.