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A `Treasure Island' that's well worth digging up

October 15, 2006|Susan King

Motion Picture

Masterpieces Collection

(Warner Home Video, $50)

Treasure Island

After teaming them in the 1931 hit "The Champ" and 1933's "The Bowery," MGM tapped blustery Wallace Beery and child actor Jackie Cooper once again for this enjoyable 1934 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's pirate tale.

Director Victor Fleming, who excelled in this early action genre, helmed the handsome production. He also gives free reign to his actors, who devour the scenery whole. Beery, who won an Oscar for "The Champ," milks his colorful peg-legged buccaneer Long John Silver for all he's worth. Cooper, sporting a dreadful "Dutch Boy" bob, pouts and cries more than Shirley Temple.

The film ended up becoming one of MGM's biggest moneymakers of the year.

Extras: The maudlin Technicolor MGM short "The Spectacle Maker," which marked the directorial debut of John Farrow, husband of Maureen O'Sullivan and father of Mia; the Oscar-nominated live-action short subject "Strikes and Spares," the "Happy Harmonies" Technicolor cartoon "Tale of the Vienna Woods" and the trailer.

*

David Copperfield

Lovely, lavish 1935 adaptation of Charles Dickens' beloved story about a plucky young lad living in 19th century England. Nominated for three Academy Awards, including best film, "David Copperfield" was produced by David O. Selznick and directed by George Cukor.

The film marked the American debut of the engaging British child star Freddie Bartholomew, who gives a memorable turn as the young Copperfield; Frank Lawton, who plays the adult hero, isn't quite as impressive. The role of Micawber went to comic legend W.C. Fields, who acquits himself quite nicely -- though he refused to do a British accent. Elizabeth Allan, Edna May Oliver and Basil Rathbone also star.

Extras: The Technicolor musical curio "Pirate Party at Catalina Island" starring Chester Morris and Charles "Buddy" Rogers, the cartoon "Poor Little Me" and the trailer.

*

A Tale of Two Cities

Selznick also produced this endearing, sumptuous 1935 adaptation of Dickens' sweeping epic set against the French Revolution. Ronald Colman, the British heartthrob with the mellifluous voice, shed his trademark pencil-thin mustache for his romantic turn as the alcoholic attorney Sydney Carton, who loves Lucie (Elizabeth Allan), the beautiful fiancee of a dashing Frenchman, Charles Darnay (Donald Woods).

Carton finds redemption when he agrees to save Darnay from the guillotine after the revolutionaries arrest him in Paris. Jack Conway directed.

Extras: The Oscar-nominated short about 3-D "Audioscopikis," two cartoons, the Lux Radio Theater version starring Colman and the trailer.

*

Marie Antoinette

With Sofia Coppola's pop-tinged take on the ill-fated queen of France hitting theaters, it's fun to see what 1930s Hollywood made of the monarch's story.

Released in 1938, "Marie Antoinette" was the last project of MGM's boy-wonder producer Irving Thalberg for his wife, Oscar-winning actress Norma Shearer. After his death in 1936, the project appeared to have been shelved, but by 1937 it was back on the studio's schedule, though on a smaller budget.

In fact, Sidney Franklin was originally hired to direct but was replaced with W.S. Van Dyke, whom executives believed would make the movie faster and with less expense -- Van Dyke shot the classic 1934 mystery comedy "The Thin Man" in just two weeks.

Still, this lengthy biopic exudes opulence. The facade of the recently completed Hollywood Park racetrack was redressed to resemble the exterior of the Palace at Versailles. For the first time in movie history, the French government allowed MGM to shoot backgrounds of the real Versailles, and those scenes were edited into the footage shot at the racetrack. Supposedly, the Versailles ballroom set was twice the size of the actual space.

Shearer, who was about 20 years too old for the part of the queen, received her last best actress Oscar nomination for her work as the naive teenager from Austria who transforms herself into the ultimate party animal. She's a bit stilted but pulls off the part. Robert Morley, in his film debut, nearly steals the film as her portly, emotionally stunted husband. Tyrone Power is breathtakingly handsome as a Swedish count who steals Marie's heart. John Barrymore also stars.

Extras: A short on the preparation of the Carthay Circle theater for the world premiere of the film in Los Angeles and the trailer.

*

Pride and Prejudice

This exquisite 1940 adaptation of Jane Austen's charming, romantic 19th century novel stars Greer Garson as the plucky heroine Elizabeth Bennet and Laurence Olivier as the handsome suitor Mr. Darcy. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard, the film also stars Maureen O'Sullivan, Karen Morley, Edmund Gwenn and Edna May Oliver.

Adapted by "Brave New World" novelist Aldous Huxley, the film won an Oscar for art direction.

Extras: The trailer, the cartoon "The Fishing Bear" and the Oscar-nominated short "Eyes of the Navy."

-- Susan King

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