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Case Number 09839

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Long John Silver

VCI Home Video // 1954 // 106 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Erick Harper (Retired) // August 11th, 2006

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All Rise...

Arrr, ye scurvy dogs, this DVD would be a lot more appealin' if she came with th' $5.99 Super Sampler combo.

The Charge

"This special addition [sic!] motion picture has been digitally restored to its present condition."

Opening Statement

Walt Disney's film adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island hit theaters in 1950 and became something of an instant kiddie classic, thanks in large part to Robert Newton's memorable scenery-chewing as the fearsome pirate Long John Silver. Capitalizing on the popularity of the character (and the fact that Stevenson's works and characters were conveniently in the public domain), enterprising producers Joe Kaufmann and Mark Evans cooked up this sequel featuring none of the original cast except for a heapin' helpin' of Newton in the title role. Now, capitalizing once again on a Disney-driven wave of interest in all things piratical, the notorious buccaneer has booked passage on this here DVD from VCI Home Video. Shiver me timbers!

Facts of the Case

Arr, navigatin' th' shoals o' this here plot be harder 'n roundin' th' Horn with a sprung mainmast, so look sharp, me hearties. Ol' Long John Silver (Robert Newton, Around the World in Eighty Days (1956), Blackbeard, the Pirate, The High and the Mighty) ain't been doin' much in th' way o' piratical enterprises o' late, since he be needin' a certain medallion fer to as who might say decode th' treasure map in his possession.

When th' bilge rat known as "El Toro" Mendoza (Lloyd Berrell) be kidnappin' th' governor's wee slip o' a daughter, Elizabeth (Thora Smith), Ol' Long John spies his chance to run athwart his rival's hawse. Directly he parleys with th' Governor, offerin' his services to rescue th' girl. Blimey! Who should he be findin' aboard Mendoza's barky but his wee shipmate Jim Hawkins (Australian actor Kit Taylor), him what adventured with Cap'n Silver on Treasure Island. Long John rescues th' lad n' lass by hornswogglin' El Toro fer th' first o' many times. When li'l Jim be found to have th' medallion, they go in as partners, each needin' th' other to get th' gold, but each keepin' a weather eye toward double-crossin' t'other.

Long John and Jim set sail fer Treasure Island in search o' vast heaps o' booty. Which both Mendoza and his parcel o' scallywags and an old scurvy shipmate from t' other movie might yet scuttle their plans.

The Evidence

If reading the above description was anywhere near as hard for you as writing it was for me, then Long John Silver will be a rough go indeed. One pirate doing pirate lingo is fun and quirky. A whole movie full of them quickly becomes maddening and incomprehensible. Of course, the main pirate on display here is Newton's Long John Silver, with the bulk of the screenplay's dialogue going to him. Newton basically wrote the book on what we expect a movie pirate to sound and act like, with his performances in this film and Treasure Island an obvious influence on actors right down to Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) in the present day. Still, there are times—oh, so many times—when Newton maddeningly overdoes his shtick. There were many times I wished for subtitles on this disc so that I could figure out what he was saying. Also, if not for his labored delivery of his lines (i.e. if he would just spit out what he's trying to say), the flick would probably have been a good 10-15 minutes shorter. He does have some unintentionally comical moments. Remember, pirates tend to stick extra Rs into words, so that Long John's pal Jim Hawkins becomes "Jim Hawrrkins," who, we are told, "fourrght like a tiger." Best to have the sawbones look into that, Mr. Hawkins—blue pill and black draught for you.

The plot as related above is fairly standard pirate fare, perhaps a bit more convoluted than usual. Of course, the above synopsis fails to mention the romantic subplot. Oh yes, there is a romantic subplot. Tavern owner Purity Pinker (Connie Gilchrist, Machine-Gun Kelly) has set her sights on domesticating the seafaring rogue. She plans to make him forswear his beloved rum and settle down with her all respectable-like. This subplot is intended as comic relief, but it is neither particularly comical nor relieving.

Someone has taken great pains to restore Long John Silver to its present condition. Included as a special feature is a before-and-after comparison with the newly-refurbished film side by side with the original print. The improvement is dramatic. The film still doesn't look very good, however, because the original was so incredibly degraded to begin with. The image flickers and flashes, with sparkles and mosquito noise around sharp edges or fine details. Flesh tones come across as reddish or yellowish. Blacks seem oversaturated (perhaps trying to compensate for the faded condition of the source print), forcing the characters to swim in murk much of the time. Audio, taken from a "rare original 4-track recording," has been remixed into a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. This works surprisingly well for the score, which rings out proudly from all channels, but works less well for dialogue or action scenes. There is major audio hiss. Also, many of the newly-remixed lines and sound effects echo metallically in the rear surround channels. Some voices echo and reverb badly, and produce ringing distortions that sound a lot like microphone feedback.

Special features include the aforementioned before-and-after comparison, actor and director bios, and the original trailer, and a TV spot.

Closing Statement

Long John Silver shows that the quick-buck sequel is not a new Hollywood phenomenon. The overall plot could have led to a better movie than this, but it is poorly executed, full of inexplicable character action (such as why young Jim keeps double-crossing Long John and then making up with him again) and, oh my, that "comic" romantic subplot. Steer clear of these waters, lest ye run aground on the reefs of woe—not to mention boredom.

The Verdict

Guilty on all counts. Hang 'im from the yardarm!

We stand adjourned.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 60
Audio: 55
Extras: 50
Acting: 70
Story: 65
Judgment: 60

Perp Profile

Studio: VCI Home Video
Video Formats:
• 2.55:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• None
Running Time: 106 Minutes
Release Year: 1954
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Action
• All Ages
• Classic

Distinguishing Marks

• Before and After Restoration Demo
• Actor and Director Bios
• Original Trailer
• TV Spot

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