This is an ambitious film of J.M. Barrie's "The Admirable Crichton." Barrie wrote "Peter Pan" and a number of other works that examined social relationships and how people got along in unconventional situations. This film is a faithful adaptation of the novel, which concerns an aristocratic family and their servants who are marooned on an island, with the butler Crichton (played by Thomas Meighan) becoming the master over the aristocrats, including the lovely 20-year-old Gloria Swanson as Lady Lasenby.
The actors and actresses in this film are fabulous, very attractive and
human. The characterizations, direction and cinematography still hold
up amazingly well, and a few scenes, such as the shipwreck and those
with the lion, stand out. Throughout, there is amusing commentary on
timeless human nature - the actors communicate more with a glance or a
smile than some modern actors do with a page of dialog. Check out the
grimace the girl fanning the "king" gives when he's not looking, and
the flirty smile by the maid looking for a new job.
There are the usual Hollywood conventions. You just have to wait for
the otherwise totally unnecessary Biblical fantasy scene for some
clothes to come off, the moment for which I'm sure many moviegoers back
then were waiting patiently (hey, they had paid their nickel, they were
entitled to see a little skin!). This scene proves that the bikini was
invented long before the 1950s. Barrie was very much against
censorship, so he no doubt approved. The scene supposedly shows that
the roles of these folks have reversed course more than once in past
lives, but that seems sheer contrivance to me.
I particularly liked how one fellow wore a blindingly white suit
throughout and after the shipwreck without it ever getting the least
bit mussed - ah, Hollywood! The scenery is magnificent and there are
fabulous shots of the (California?) unspoiled coastline, no doubt long
since degraded by advancing civilization.
My main criticism is that the subtitles hit us over the head too often
with "Today's moral lesson to be learned," endlessly repeating a
variety of "what makes a man king is solely his circumstances" quotes.
I did find some of the subtitles amusing in a droll, overly didactic
way ("These beauties condition their faces, but must learn to face
conditions"), but please, I get the point! The plot also seems a bit
formulaic, but, of course, this version came first and was probably
considered highly inventive at the time.
If you look closely, you'll see prototypes of The Skipper, Gilligan,
Mary Anne and the rest. It was fun trying to match these characters
with later versions, see which were combined or eliminated, etc. A
fascinating film that you can plainly see was a model for later, less
ambitious efforts that also had their unique merits.