A United States production part-manufactured in Australia.
(All the key ATL creatives were United States citizens, including producers Martin Rackin and Joe Kaufman, writer Martin Rackin, composer David Buttolph, DOP Carl Guthrie, and director Byron Haskin).
Production company: Treasure Island Pictures
Budget: c. £500,000-600,000 (producers planned to spend +£1,000,000 on the feature film and on a 26 part half hour children's television show, and in turn these episodes were spun off into a further two feature film compiles given brief theatrical releases in some territories).
As always, these figures are flexible. Producer Kaufman was also quoted in the press at the time referring to a US$500,000 budget for the feature film, and a total cost of over US$1,000,000 for film and series. Twentieth Century-Fox assisted with an advance against distribution rights in Australia and the UK. Kaufman priced the TV episodes at US$20,000 each, or A£8,930, but claimed a screen value of US$40,000 an ep.
Locations: Pagewood studios Sydney (the pirate ship, a water-front street in the Caribbean), galleon on a barge in Botany Bay, the coast near Sydney, Garie Beach (south of the National Park, as the coast of Pureto Bello), town of Waterfall, and the Jenolan caves in NSW.
Filmed: shooting began on 3rd May 1954, and ran for 63 days, allegedly a "record shooting time"
Australian distributor: Twentieth Century-Fox
Australian release: 16th December 1954, Plaza theatre Sydney
Rating: For general entertainment
35mm CinemaScope Eastmancolor 2.55:1 four track stereo Western Electric recording
Running time: 106 mins
DVD time: 1'45"51
Box office: n/a, but only average. The show did acceptable Christmas business for children domestically, but it did disappointing business in the United States, resulting in producer Kaufman abandoning further feature film production activity in Australia. A spin-off TV series was his only other work down under.
The film has been treated as public domain in many territories, and so there are any number of versions available on DVD. The film was at one point available on the Internet Archive but then taken down after a copyright claim
A version released by BSV in region four claims it is a fully restored CinemaScope version done in 2006, with TV spot, original theatrical trailer, biographies and a short 2'26" comparison of the 'before and after' of the restoration, but the image, while in widescreen format, is inclined to be soft and with a number of other issues in relation to the picture.
While it is better than many PD versions, it doesn't provide convincing evidence that this version was the result of the restoration of the original negative, but rather came from a secondary source of only average quality.
The film is loosely based, in a sequel way, on Robert Louis Stevenson's classic novel Treasure Island, first published in 1883 by Cassell in London.
A more immediate inspiration was the Walt Disney production Treasure Island, also directed by Bryon Haskin and starring Robert Newton, with both re-signing to make US screenwriter Martin Rackin's fresh plundering of the Stevenson novel. (Rackin was briefly head of Paramount production and has a wiki stub here).
The sequel owes more to the style of that show, featuring Newton over-acting in the hammy piratical style he made his own, cranked up to eleven, than to Stevenson's original classic text. In his day Newton was much mocked, but these days, after the ham on display in the Pirates of the Caribbean series, he might either sue for plagiarism or announce that his acting style was inclined to the minimalist.
There was one benefit for Australian writers. Kylie Tennant (wiki here) was selected to write Long John Silver: the story of the film, from Rackin's screenplay.
The 207 page book boasts four leaves of colour plates, was published by Associated General Publications in Sydney in 1954, and was also published in France by Hachette in 1956 under the title La caverne de l'ile tresor, traduction by Jacques Brecard. The National Library of Australia holds copies, but copies can also still be found on the second hand market.
(Below: Kylie Tennant)
Promotions for the book were published in a number of Australian comics, including Kid Colt Outlaw, No. 37 in 1955:
A signed copy turned up on the ABC's Collectors program, here, and from time to time a signed copy will turn up in the collectors' market.
Director Byron Haskin had already had some experience in the South Pacific, with some pre-prodiuction done for his 1954 actioner with Burt Lancaster, His Majesty O'Keefe, done out of Sydney, and with a number of Australian cast (Lloyd Berrell, Grant Taylor, Guy Doleman, Harvey Adams and Muriel Steinbeck) in supporting roles.
2. The production:
American producer Joseph Kaufman was one of a number of international producers who turned up as carpetbaggers in Australia in the nineteen fifties, promising much, but usually only delivering their first project.
Kaufman preferred Australia to Egypt because of shared language and cost of cast and crew, but it has to be noted that the Sydney landscapes made a poor substitute for the more tropical climes of the Caribbean.
Kaufman's Treasure Island Pictures also took an option on the Sydney Pagewood Studios, promising to spend about US$225,000 on new cutting rooms and stages as a way of increasing the capacity of the studio to mount several productions at the same time.
Kaufman planned to make at least three big pictures in the next two years using CinemaScope to show off the Australian scenery to its best advantage, and advertised an interest in any good screenplays written by Australians. Kaufman was widely reported as investigating the possibility of adapting Colin Simpson's popular book "Come Away Pearler" to the screen, and he was reported to have acquired the rights …
Nothing happened, and director Haskin alleged later that Kaufman ran out of money during the production. Part of the finance allegedly came from notorious Wall Street financier Lois Wolfson.
Kaufman did manage to complete the first television series spin-off to be made in Australia, and thereafter kept plundering his Long John Silver material. He edited the series' footage into at least two supporting B-features, Under the Black Flag and South Sea Pirates, which were released in Britain in 1956 and 1957, where the television series had obtained a good children's audience.
Kaufman made much of obtaining CinemaScope cameras from the United States - CinemaScope had only been introduced into Australian theatres in the previous year - and the production was shot in two versions, one using the CinemaScope cameras and the other in standard wide screen format to ensure release in cinemas which had yet to be equipped with CinemaScope projection facilities.
The film can claim it was the first CinemaScope film shot in Australia, the first in four track, and after Kangaroo, the second in colour, and it led to the first Australian colour television series.
The cast and crew on the feature film and the television series were largely the same, with a mix of American technicians and a large number of local crew. A second Hollywood director Lee Sholem directed a number of episodes on the television series.
While the music was recorded locally at Pagewood studios, and provides a rare chance to hear the Sydney Symphony Orchestra as it was in the nineteen fifties, other post-production work was completed by Haskin in London.
Any further talk of another television series featuring Robert Newton floundered when the British actor was found dead in March 1956 at the age of fifty from a heart attack at his Beverley Hills home. Newton, an alcoholic, had been suffering from a heart ailment, and left behind his fourth wife, Vera Budnick, a former publicist he married in 1952, and a five year old son Nicholas, by his third wife, Natalie Newhouse of London.
Australian viewers can amuse themselves by spotting local backgrounds, most notably Sydney foreshore rocks, gum trees, the Jenolan caves, Garie beach in the National Park south of Sydney, the town of Waterfall, and other locales at odds with the alleged Caribbean setting. Most of the action - exterior and interior - took place within Pagewood studios, and the galleon action on Botany Bay and the model ships filmed at Port Hacking look risible to the modern CGI eye.
Apart from American actress Connie Gilchrist and English star Newtown, local actors filled the minor roles.
Kaufman plied the well established path of generating publicity by doing an extensive casting call for a boy to play Jim Hawkins, with Kit Taylor, son of actor Grant Taylor winning the role from some two hundred contenders and being put on a contract worth a £1,000 in the first two years, and rising to £2,000 in the third.
Grant Taylor had already worked with Byron Haskin on His Majesty O'Keefe, and it wasn't surprising both Taylors earned roles on the Silver film.
Guy Doleman was offered the role of Israel Hands, but he refused to don a beard and wear the contact lenses required to give the character his blank wild-eyed look. Rod Taylor took the role and took another step towards Hollywood after his first successful outing in King of the Coral Seas.
4. The Release:
Kaufman arranged a pre-Christmas launch to maximise the exposure to the key target audience of children. He arranged a lavish world premiere at the Plaza theatre in Sydney.
It was generously reported the next day by the Sydney Morning Herald, 17th December 1954, with tales of Byron Haskin losing his wife, and Kit Taylor losing his mother in the mad scramble of the crowd.
While children were a key demographic, the matinee circuit was then a difficult way in Australia to generate substantial box office, unless - as with Bush Christmas earlier, and Smiley a few years later - there was cross-over and therefore break out potential.
Long John Silver didn't last beyond the holiday season in most theatres. It was always going to need the international marketplace, but here it did only average business, with word of mouth and reviewers comparing it unfavourably to the first Disney picture Treasure Island.
The film is sometimes confused with Return to Treasure Island, another dismal sequel directed in 1954 by Ewald André Dupont and starring Tab Hunter and Dawn Addams. At time of writing, the IMDB and other online database entries for this film manage to confuse credits for it with some credits for the Long John Silver version.
As a coda, it was recorded in the press that embattled alcoholic star Robert Newton was alleged to owe in the UK some £46,300 in income taxes, £700 to small creditors and £300 to bookmakers.