Ken Annakin’s Swiss Family Robinson, released in 1960, was one of my absolute favorite movies to watch on VHS when I was growing up, and upon a recent revisit, I was reminded of how enjoyable this film is, and how it’s one of the most violent family films ever made. Seriously – killing bad guys is treated like a family event in this film, a sort of sport, with everyone getting in on the action, including good-old Mom! Coconuts are turned into improvised hand-grenades, massive logs and tree trunks are used to roll over henchmen, swords and muskets are busted out at a moment’s notice, while a general air of smiling menace hangs over the entire film. A splendid cast including John Mills, Dorothy McGuire, James MacArthur, Janet Munro, Tommy Kirk, and Kevin Corcoran made the most out of each role, while the stranded on a deserted island plot line allowed for all sorts of shenanigans and pratfalls.
Harry Waxman’s full bodied cinematography is sensational, while the film itself was the first widescreen Disney movie shot with Panavision lenses, as the company had predominantly used matted widescreen or CinemaScope as their preferred photographic process. Filmed on location in Tobago and London’s Pinewood Studios, Swiss Family Robinson does truly feel epic at times, with lots of extras, huge ships, big action set pieces on shore and at sea, while the film never lost track of some of the smaller details that make this one better than you might remember. William Alwyn’s robust score was the cherry on top of the sundae. The film would become a huge financial success, grossing $40 million off of a $4 million budget, and that was back when money was real.