SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON (1940) Thomas Mitchell, Edna Best
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Johan David Wyss' novel "Swiss Family Robinson" had been in print for nearly fifty years before this first film version was made by RKO in 1940. Thomas Mitchell is top-billed as the patriarch of the Robinson family, who, as in the book, are shipwrecked on a tropical island and compelled to bring the edicts and values of civilization to their tiny patch of the world. To give the story a bit of topicality, screenwriters Walter Ferris, Gene Towne, and Graham Baker contrive to depict the Robinsons as refugees from a foreign war (Napoleonic rather than Hitler-inspired). Produced independently by The Play's the Thing Productions and released by RKO, "Swiss Family Robinson" was completely withdrawn from circulation on the occasion of the 1960 Disney remake.
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In the event there is a digitally remastered copy of this movie for sale in the future, please notify me.
The print has not been remastered, so it's dark in several places, and therefore best viewed in a completely dark room. Still, it's not as bad as some have intimated, and is about a 7 out of 10 in print quality. Well worth watching, especially for nostalgists and purists and especially if you are fan of any of the actors. Thomas Mitchell (Scarlett's father in the previous year's Gone With the Wind) gives an excellent performance as the doting and concerned father who wishes only that his sons grow up with wisdom and depth and maturity.
Freddie Bartholomew is delightful as the foppish son who out-Pimpernels Pimpernel (that's a Leslie Howard reference if you haven't seen that movie). Long-lashed and doe-eyed young Terry Kilburn overacts in a couple bits but is largely quite rewarding as the young son who loves reading and writing. Edna Best is sometimes a bit annoying as the mother, but that's what her role demands, and she is often lovely and charming as well. Tim Holt is fine as the eldest of the four sons, which include a baby who doesn't talk.
All in all, definitely worth it if you are inclined. I've seen it on eBay and other venues if it's out of stock here -- for instance you can Google the title in quotes plus Retro Flix in quotes.
However, I am so disappointed in the quality of the copy that I received. Most of the movie was so dark I could not see the characters. I would have returned it immediately but I was afraid I would not be able to find it again and sincerely want it in my video library. I realize that this is a very old film and clearer copies my not be attainable.