Swiss Family Robinson (1960)

126-128 mins | Adventure, Comedy-drama | December 1960

Director:

Ken Annakin

Producer:

Bill Anderson

Cinematographer:

Harry Waxman

Editor:

Peter Boita

Production Designer:

John Howell

Production Company:

Walt Disney Productions
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HISTORY

An opening credit reads: "This picture was filmed on the island of Tobago, the West Indies." Unlike all previous Buena Vista releases, in which the company is credited onscreen as "Buena Vista Film Distribution Co., Inc," the Swiss Family Robinson credits mark the first time the company is listed as "Buena Vista Distribution Co., Inc." The publication on which the film was based originated with Swiss pastor Johann David Wyss (1743—1818), who told the story verbally to his sons. The story was first published in 1812-13 under the title Der schweizerische Robinson and was subsequently re-published several times by different authors, each of whom added and subtracted material.
       Of the many publications, the first to use the title Swiss Family Robinson was an 1818 version, and the first version registered with the Library of Congress has a publication date circa 1872. Reviews noted that the Walt Disney version added even more adventures to the book’s storyline, including the romantic rivalry, the pirate attack and the wild animal race, and deleted most of the depictions of the difficulties of creating a comfortable life on a deserted island.
       Associate producer Basil Keys stated in a Dec 1960 SEP article that Disney and producer Bill Anderson decided to make their version of the film after viewing the 1940 RKO version (directed by Edward Ludwig and starring Thomas Mitchell and Edna Best; see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ). According to a Jul 1959 LAT article, director Ken Annakin used the 1940 version as “an example of what not to do,” eschewing the earlier film’s studio reproductions and focusing instead ... More Less

An opening credit reads: "This picture was filmed on the island of Tobago, the West Indies." Unlike all previous Buena Vista releases, in which the company is credited onscreen as "Buena Vista Film Distribution Co., Inc," the Swiss Family Robinson credits mark the first time the company is listed as "Buena Vista Distribution Co., Inc." The publication on which the film was based originated with Swiss pastor Johann David Wyss (1743—1818), who told the story verbally to his sons. The story was first published in 1812-13 under the title Der schweizerische Robinson and was subsequently re-published several times by different authors, each of whom added and subtracted material.
       Of the many publications, the first to use the title Swiss Family Robinson was an 1818 version, and the first version registered with the Library of Congress has a publication date circa 1872. Reviews noted that the Walt Disney version added even more adventures to the book’s storyline, including the romantic rivalry, the pirate attack and the wild animal race, and deleted most of the depictions of the difficulties of creating a comfortable life on a deserted island.
       Associate producer Basil Keys stated in a Dec 1960 SEP article that Disney and producer Bill Anderson decided to make their version of the film after viewing the 1940 RKO version (directed by Edward Ludwig and starring Thomas Mitchell and Edna Best; see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ). According to a Jul 1959 LAT article, director Ken Annakin used the 1940 version as “an example of what not to do,” eschewing the earlier film’s studio reproductions and focusing instead on realistic location shooting and art direction.
       In Nov 1957, HR reported that Lawrence E. Watkin would write the adaptation, and in Jun 1958 a HR news item declared that the story would be shot for a television series. By early 1959, however, HR items noted that the film was set as a theatrical release, and in Mar 1959 Lowell S. Hawley was signed to write the screenplay. Although a Feb 1959 HR item reported that filming would take place in Kenya, the only shooting to take place outside of Tobago was some interior shooting in England.
       The following information was taken from studio press materials: Anderson persuaded Disney to film on Tobago, necessitating the creation of a makeshift studio there. Over three hundred crew members, plus period props and equipment were shipped in from America and Europe. Over two hundred animals and birds were brought to the island, where a zoo was constructed to hold them. Production lasted for six months, with photography taking place on thirty sites throughout Tobago. Local towns and townspeople were paid or hidden so they would not show up in the backgrounds; the studio paid Tobagan homeowners $20 to paint their houses green so they would blend into the hillsides. Hurricane Edith interrupted filming with torrential rains and the loss of many temporary stages. In addition to the massive treehouse set, built from scratch in a saman tree, and a working sea craft, the crew also erected a wrecked ship set. That model, featuring two 60-foot steel towers, was modeled on Capt. Cook’s Endeavour . The final cost of the film was $5 million, a figure, according to a SEP article, that was a half million over budget. John Mills's autobiography adds Freddie Clarke as Mills's stand-in and a stunt man.
       The reviews of Swiss Family Robinson were mostly positive, although many critics noted the story’s lack of realism, especially in the scenes in which the house is built and the pirates are fought. The picture became one of Disney’s top-grossing films. After the original release, Disney created a feature at his Disneyland amusement park called the Swiss Family Treehouse, a 70-foot reproduction of the family home. A promotional teaser for the film, entitled “Escape to Paradise," aired on Walt Disney Presents on 18 Dec 1960.
       The studio re-issued the film in 1969, 1972, 1975 and 1981 and released it on home video in 1982. The many other film and television versions of Wyss’s book include a 1903 silent film by S. Lubin Productions (see AFI Catalog. Film Beginnings, 1893-1910 ); the 1940 RKO version discussed above; a 1975 television movie, directed by Harry Harris and starring Martin Milner and Pat Delany; a television series entitled The Adventures of Swiss Family Robinson , starring Richard Thomas, which ran from 1Sep--15 Oct 1998; and a 1995 television movie called The New Swiss Family Robinson , directed by Stewart Rafill and starring James Keach and Jane Seymour. In Jun 2005, Walt Disney Pictures announced that it would be producing another version of the film, with Jonathan Mostow set to direct. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
14 Nov 1960.
---
Daily Variety
9 Nov 60
p. 3.
Film Daily
15 Nov 60
p. 10.
Filmfacts
1960
pp. 331-33.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Nov 1957
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Jun 1958
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Jan 1959
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Feb 1959
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Mar 1959
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jun 1959
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
14 Aug 1959
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Jan 1960
p. 16.
Hollywood Reporter
9 Nov 1960
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Jan 1969.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
22 Dec 1960.
---
Los Angeles Times
10 Jul 1959.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
12 Nov 60
p. 917.
New York Times
24 Dec 60
p. 8.
Saturday Review
3 Dec 1960.
---
The Saturday Evening Post
10 Dec 1960
pp. 38-9, 106, 108-9, 112.
Time
13 Jan 1961.
---
Variety
9 Nov 60
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
2d unit dir
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Addl photog
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Asst art dir
Asst art dir
Sketch artist
Unit const mgr
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
VISUAL EFFECTS
Spec eff
Spec eff
Matte artist
MAKEUP
Makeup
Makeup
Hairstylist
PRODUCTION MISC
Prod mgr
Animal supv
Chief animal handler
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss (Springfield, MA and Chicago, IL, 1872?).
SONGS
"My Heart Was an Island," words and music by Terry Gilkyson
"Oh Christmas Tree (Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum)," German folk song.
COMPOSER
DETAILS
Release Date:
December 1960
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles opening: 21 December 1960
New York opening: 23 December 1960
Production Date:
mid August 1959--early January 1960
Copyright Claimant:
Walt Disney Productions
Copyright Date:
29 August 1960
Copyright Number:
LP17557
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound Recording
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
Panavision
Duration(in mins):
126-128
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
19632
SYNOPSIS

In the early 1800s, the Robinson family, Father, Mother and sons Fritz, Ernst and Francis, flee Napoleon’s influence in Switzerland to settle a new colony in New Guinea. Their ship, however, is beset by pirates, and while the family is trapped below decks, the rest of the crew abandons ship near the dangerous reefs. The ship soon founders, but the family manages to break out and, upon spotting land nearby, fashion a raft to reach the shore. After leading the family in prayer, Father and Mother begin arranging for a crude shelter, not realizing that a tiger is watching them closely. The next day, the males return to the shipwreck to empty it of supplies. When they soon spot the pirate ship that had earlier attacked them, Father hoists a quarantine flag that dupes the pirates into a retreat. They load months’ worth of supplies, including goats, a donkey, birds and a pig, behind the raft, but the swimming animals attract the attention of sharks, who circle ominously. The boys are able to fend off the sharks by shooting at and stabbing them, and afterward, Ernst, the erudite brother, lassos a giant turtle that helps pull them to shore. On land, Mother searches for young Frances and finds him trapping a baby elephant. When the tiger attacks, the captain’s dogs, Duke and Turk, whom Frances insisted on rescuing from the ship, come to his rescue. Soon, the elephant is put to use hauling logs for the family as they plan a treehouse fort. Although Mother worries that they are becoming too permanently settled on the island instead of searching for escape methods, and further declares that she and Frances ... +


In the early 1800s, the Robinson family, Father, Mother and sons Fritz, Ernst and Francis, flee Napoleon’s influence in Switzerland to settle a new colony in New Guinea. Their ship, however, is beset by pirates, and while the family is trapped below decks, the rest of the crew abandons ship near the dangerous reefs. The ship soon founders, but the family manages to break out and, upon spotting land nearby, fashion a raft to reach the shore. After leading the family in prayer, Father and Mother begin arranging for a crude shelter, not realizing that a tiger is watching them closely. The next day, the males return to the shipwreck to empty it of supplies. When they soon spot the pirate ship that had earlier attacked them, Father hoists a quarantine flag that dupes the pirates into a retreat. They load months’ worth of supplies, including goats, a donkey, birds and a pig, behind the raft, but the swimming animals attract the attention of sharks, who circle ominously. The boys are able to fend off the sharks by shooting at and stabbing them, and afterward, Ernst, the erudite brother, lassos a giant turtle that helps pull them to shore. On land, Mother searches for young Frances and finds him trapping a baby elephant. When the tiger attacks, the captain’s dogs, Duke and Turk, whom Frances insisted on rescuing from the ship, come to his rescue. Soon, the elephant is put to use hauling logs for the family as they plan a treehouse fort. Although Mother worries that they are becoming too permanently settled on the island instead of searching for escape methods, and further declares that she and Frances will stay away until the structure is perfectly safe, the men labor to make the house a home. As soon as it is finished, they bring Mother to view the luxurious quarters, complete with running water, retractable stairs and a master bedroom with a sky view, and Mother is overcome with admiration. In the days that follow, she adds feminine finishing touches to the house while Ernst reads the ship’s books and deduces that the island’s many different kinds of animals, such as ostriches, zebra, hyenas and monkeys, must be the result of an earlier land bridge connecting it with Africa. Although they want to sail around the shore to ensure they really are on an island, rather than a peninsula, Mother remains fearful of the risk. One day, however, while they play in the river among the waterfalls, Father maneuvers Mother into insisting that they must escape their idyllic new home for the good of the boys, and agreeing to let them explore for that purpose. Fritz and Ernst construct a small sailboat and set forth. The trip begins peacefully, allowing them time to discuss their future plans and desire to return to Europe to flirt with girls. Soon, however, they catch sight of the pirate ship and, in their attempt to hide, find their boat overturned and dashed against the rocks. They swim to shore, where they see two English prisoners, Capt. Moreland and his grandson Bertie, tied up while the pirates argue in an Asian language. The pirates approach the prisoners, but after Moreland offers to write a ransom note, they agree to leave Bertie alone. The pirates move away to form a plan, affording Fritz and Ernst a chance to sneak over and free the Englishmen’s bonds, but when the pirates spot them, Moreland insists they take Bertie and run. After a narrow escape, the boys manage to elude the bloodthirsty pirates, stealing one pistol along the way. They camp for the night, where Bertie declines to sleep with the brothers. The next day, upon reaching a river they must remove their clothes to cross, Bertie grabs the pistol and runs away, and when Fritz wrestles him to the ground, he discovers that Bertie is really Roberta, a young lady disguised as a boy to keep the pirates at bay. Soon, the brothers are competing to treat her as gently as possible, and Ernst though tries to impress her with literary quotations, Roberta is more attracted to Fritz’s quiet strength. Their trip across the island is long and arduous, and while traversing a swamp, Fritz is attacked by an anaconda. In the ensuing struggle, Ernst helps drive the snake away, but loses the compass. Fritz insists that he can lead them back, maintaining his confidence even when Ernst and Roberta threaten to turn around without him. Soon after, they come upon a zebra stuck in a mud bog. After chasing away the hyenas and vultures that circle nearby, the trio manages to free the zebra and leads it toward home. Meanwhile, Father, Mother and Frances try to put their worries about the boys aside to celebrate Christmas. When Father sings, Mother breaks down, but is thrilled to hear the sound of her oldest sons joining in the song as they find their way back to the treehouse. She welcomes Roberta and clothes her in a lovely dress, the sight of which inspires the brothers to further acts of competition. Days later, Father decides to demolish the shipwreck so it will not signal their position to the pirates, and the boys offer suggestions for defense, including moving to an uphill location, building snares and homemade bombs, stockpiling ammunition and, at Frances’ insistence, digging a pit in which to trap a tiger. During the preparations, Roberta proposes to Fritz that her grandfather could secure him a job in London, where she loves the society balls, but he replies that he would prefer to live off the land and help settle New Guinea. Although disappointed, Roberta, secretly a sharp-shooter, urges Fritz to teach her to use the ship’s rifles. Her plan almost works and they are about to embrace when Ernst sees them and jealously starts a fight with his brother, which Father interrupts. That night, Roberta tearfully apologizes to Fritz for causing trouble between the brothers, and vows to leave him alone, as they want different kinds of lives. Just then, to everyone’s shock, Frances’ tiger trap proves successful, and the family places palm fronds over the mouth of the pit to hide the tiger below. The next day, Father leads a race, with each person riding a different wild animal. When Mother shoots the pistol as a starting signal, however, the noise reaches the pirate ship at sea, and they soon come ashore to attack. The family rushes to their uphill position, and use all of their homespun weapons to battle the pirates. Their ingenious inventions, including the tiger pit, are successful, but there are so many pirates the family cannot sustain their attack, and soon are in desperate straits. At that moment, the pirates begin to retreat, and although the Robinsons are at first puzzled, Roberta spots her grandfather’s ship at sea and realizes he has returned to rescue them. At dinner in the treehouse, Moreland offers an ecstatic Ernst a position at a British university, and asks the parents whatever post they would prefer. Father is shocked and delighted when Mother declares that they would like to stay on the island with Frances, and Moreland asserts that, as the British will soon settle the island, Father is sure to be named governor. In private, Roberta tells Fritz that she understands Mother’s decision, and he agrees that he, too, would like to stay, as long as she will stay with him. This time, when Ernst catches them kissing, he quietly retreats, and later waves goodbye to his family, certain to return soon to visit their idyllic island. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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