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Probably the Disney film with the most unique or “exotic”-sounding title, Treasure of Matecumbe is one of those more forgotten Disney films. And as been common with recent films I’ve reviewed here, it’s directed by Vincent McEveety. It should be known that the film is on Disney+, but with the disclaimer, “This program is presented as originally created. It may contain outdated cultural depictions.”.
So, is this a treasure worth unearthing or better left buried? Read on to find out!
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
After the opening credits roll,
we see a grand estate in post-Civil War Kentucky. A young boy, Davie, played by Johnny Doran, lives there with his two aunts. They love the property, but due to financial reasons, are in trouble of losing it. On this particular day, the local authorities have ridden in inquiring about a runaway slave?/ex-slave? of theirs named Ben.
The aunts send the authorities on their merry way refusing to answer. Later that night, Ben, played by Robert DoQui, arrives at the estate and informs Davie and the aunts that he possesses as secret treasure map from Davie’s late father. Davie’s late father buried the treasure so that Spangler wouldn’t get his hands on it.
Spangler, played by Vic Morrow, is a carpetbagger enemy of Davie’s late father and has been in search of the treasure for a long time. He’s traced Ben to the estate and forces his way in. The aunts try to hold off Spangler and his goons, while Ben and Davie escape out a window. Ben is shot dead, but passes the map on to Davie before he dies. Davie then runs away with his African-American friend, Thad, played by Billy ‘Pop’ Atmore.
The two escape and board a riverboat with the hopes of taking it to Matecumbe Island in Florida where the treasure is buried. Aboard the boat, they discover a runaway bride, Lauriette Paxton, played by Joan Hackett. She is a proud, streets-smart Southern woman who doesn’t want to be forced into a marriage with a “good-for-nothing Yankee”. She also has the weirdest and fakest-sounding Southern accent that I’ve ever heard, but what do I know?
One night, the kids’ money gets pickpocketed by a thief and Lauriette tries to retrieve the money for the boys. However, the thief throws her off the riverboat and the boys jump in after her to rescue her. The next day, after drying off on the nearby shore, the boys tell Lauriette their story about the treasure and Spangler, etc. Lauriette doesn’t believe their story and gets the sheriff of the nearby town, played by George Lindsey, to lock them up under the impression that they’re two runaways.
The boys manage to escape from their cell though and run into the best character in the movie, professional “snake oil salesman”, Ewing T. Snodgrass, played by Peter Ustinov. He’s your typical elixir salesman who cheats the unsuspecting people of their money by using charm, trickery, and scientific experiments. The boys convince him to take them on his small boat down the river with the intention of getting to Florida. He gets them to be his assistants as they make elixir-selling stops along the way.
Lauriette manages to catch up to where the boys are and see that they are working with Snodgrass. She then goes to the local sheriff of this town, played by Dub Taylor, to inform him about Snodgrass. The sheriff goes in to arrest Snodgrass, but ends up being hoodwinked into Snodgrass’ words. Unfortunately, Spangler and his gang have also caught up with the boys who flee as soon as they see him. Lauriette now realizes that the boys’ story was true and she helps the boys escape as they all run away on Snodgrass’ boat.
They then try to find Davie’s uncle, Jim, played by Robert Foxworth, for further help in finding the treasure. But he’s a bit tied up when they locate him.
It’s not fully clear why the KKK are about to lynch Uncle Jim, other than the fact that he criticizes their racist views. Nevertheless, Davie and the gang rescue Uncle Jim and they all flee to Snodgrass’ boat. As they travel further down the river, they convince Uncle Jim to help them locate the treasure.
It’s not long before Spangler and his goons catch up with our heroes who manage to give them the slip, but it’s implied that Uncle Jim dies after getting captured by Spangler’s men. The others are saddened, but continue down and make it to Florida. They hire someone to paddle them in a canoe down through the Florida swamplands to get to Matecumbe Island.
But, their hired hand turns out to be working for Spangler and leads them directly to Spangler and his goons. They steal the treasure map from our heroes and leave them to die of mosquito bites and/or alligator bites in the swap. Fortunately, Uncle Jim is alive and has made his way to Florida in time to rescue our heroes! They make it to a beach and start looking for the treasure before Spangler and the others can find it.
While they do find the treasure chest, a hurricane hits (Florida, of course) and poor Snodgrass gets sucked into the waters, presumably drowning to his death. Spangler and his goons steal the treasure chest from our heroes and are about to make off with it, but some Native Americans on the island arrive in time to enslave Spangler and his goons.
Davie and our heroes get back the treasure and Snodgrass returns having survived the hurricane. Davie plans to use the money to save his family estate and everyone lives happily ever after!
And that was Treasure of Matecumbe! It’s definitely a forgotten film and honestly, it shouldn’t stay buried. It’s not a great film, so to speak, and the racist depictions do date the film, but it does get you invested enough in the plot to see our heroes eventually find the treasure! I mean, I really don’t see why this can be released on Disney+ with a disclaimer, but Song of the South still can’t.
Peter Ustinov gave the best performance in the film with the others being okay at best. The special effects seem fake, even for the time, and there are plot points that I wish were fleshed out more such as more information about Spangler. Not to mention, the title song of this film is very weird and doesn’t seem to fit the style of the film at all!
I think this film should be unearthed, but as a good modern remake!
So, my final score for this film is 22/35 = 62.86% (D-) !
The next review will be posted on June 16, 2020.