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Saturday, February 23, 2013


This umpteenth version of the Robert Lewis Stevenson classic sounds better than it is. It's main interest lies in a star turn from Orson Welles as peg-legged pirate Long John Silver, in a script he co-wrote under the name O. W. Jeeves. But while the book is followed with reasonable fidelity, less gagged up & sentimental than usual, the film sinks from a distinct lack of brio in both acting and action. Welles’ actual time on set is also suspect. Visibly augmented by stand-ins including, at one desperate point, the handle (and just the handle) of Long John’s crutch. Even when he is around, Welles is nearly immobile, usually in close-up to minimize time spent hopping about on one leg, a crutch and his own poundage. Add on a clotted British accent and some mumbly line readings and it’s the least kid-friendly perf imaginable. Not without interest as an alternative saturnine look at the character, but odd. The rest of the crew isn’t bad at all, many dubbed international types, along with a flavorful turn from Lionel Stander as old Billy Bones. But young Kim Burfield, as Jim Hawkins, the boy who joins the ship and discovers that likable Long John is really a cut-throat villain just as they reach the treasure-laden island, hasn’t much film personality. (He’d soon drop out of the biz.) The equally faceless director of credit is John Hough, though our Spanish poster lists Andrew White (aka Andrea Bianchi) and Welles mentioned one Jesus Franco, a man with nearly 200 directing credits.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: The best known versions remain Disney’s 1950 film, with Robert Newton’s OTT LJS, and Victor Fleming’s surprisingly strong & scary 1934 M-G-M production co-starring Wallace Berry & Jackie Cooper. But a long-form tv version from 1990, with a remarkable cast (Charlton Heston, Christian Bale, Oliver Reed, Christopher Lee, Pete Postlethwaite) certainly looks promising. (Then again, so did this version.) Or, to see what a more energetic Welles might have done with LJS, try one of his period turns from the ‘50s: BLACK MAGIC/’49; PRINCE OF FOXES/’49 OR THE BLACK ROSE/‘50.

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