I have to admit that I was suckered in by the title of this Disney movie and the poster for it. The one thing I overlooked though was that it came out in the 1970s.
To trudge through Disney movies during this time period is to experience increasingly bad Herbie movies and films with Don Knotts. How bad would it get for the studio? The part of “befuddled dark-haired guy” would go from being played by Dean Jones to Mama’s Family alum Ken Barry!
Treasure Of Matecumbe started off promisingly enough when young Davie learned of some buried treasure in the first six minutes of the movie. But once he and his buddy, Thad, had got done jumping out of their attic, watch their pal Ben get wasted by the evil Spangler (Vic Morrow), and make their escape down river, things start going slower than Peter Ustinov paddling a canoe down the everglades.
As soon as Ben breathlessly rattled off everything he knew and what his involvement was in this buried treasure I was completely lost. It had something to do with the Civil War and a ship with gold coins and a payday loan and the next thing I know, little Davie is creaming his pants because if he can find the treasure then he can save his aunts’ house and maybe even go out and get himself a decent haircut.
It goes without saying that Johnny Doran’s sneering and pouting Davie is completely unlikable and you aren’t rooting for him at any point in time during the movie and in fact would probably be prone to feel some sympathy for his co-star Thad since he had the embarrassing job of shucking and jiving in a couple of scenes.
With the help of a map that was hidden in a book in Davie’s house, he and Thad begin their journey down to Florida to find the treasure with Spangler in hot pursuit. I’m sure they explained Spangler’s role in all this, but I was so caught up in the prospect of a couple of kids riding the river after buried riches that I paid no mind to what this guy and his Snidely Whiplash mustache were babbling about.
Once Thad and Davie hit the road they run into a cast of very unattractive characters. There’s Ustinov as the crooked medicine man and he’s about the only hint of class in the whole film, so he naturally seems out of place and you quickly tire of his over-written character.
We also meet Davie’s Uncle Jim. They say that Jim is one of those ne’er do well schemers who always has some angle going, but once we meet him, he never displays anything remotely like that. In fact, when we first encounter him, he’s about to be strung up by the KKK. Jim’s biggest failing though is that he’s got this ugly Mike Brady perm that made me think I was looking at the guy from Land Of The Lost or worse yet, Mac Davis.
The worst character though was Ms. Paxton, the runaway bride. Wearing enough rouge to make you mistake her for Raggedy Ann, she drags everything down worse than Ustinov’s big butt in that canoe with her whining and constant attempts to make the kids quit the treasure hunt.
Just to make sure that I thoroughly loathed this film and to pad it out even further, there’s an utterly pointless scene on a riverboat where Ms. Paxton beats Dick Van Patton at three card monte! The only saving grace to that scene is that we never see Van Patton’s character again.
After we endure a variety of tortures including an impromptu hillbilly hoedown on a dock and a hurricane where Ustinov gets swept away while grinning and giving everyone thumbs up for finding the treasure, the movie finally ends with some bad Indians capturing Spangler and his men and everyone discovering that Ustinov was such a lard ass that not even gale force winds could sweep him out to sea!
I was unpleasantly surprised by how little adventure the kids had on this trek. The stuff they do is boring and goes on way too long. There’s a scene where they work with Ustinov on his medicine show and it just goes on and on and when Spangler finally shows up to try and kill everyone, you’re actually breathing a sigh of relief and thinking “here comes the cavalry.”
Aside from the non-action and distasteful characters (at least Uncle Jim disappeared for the last third of the movie until it was time to find the treasure), the movie is a technical disaster. Every time we have a close up of the characters on a boat, it’s some of the worst blue screen work you’ll ever see.
What’s worse is that once we get to the swamp, the movie settles into a lame pattern of three different shots in varying order: close ups on the canoe with horrific blue screen effect, long shots of people in the canoe, and stock footage of wildlife that doesn’t match either of the two preceding types of shots.
Combine that with the really cruddy treasure of Matecumbe that consists of a single chest of Mardi Gras beads and coins and the appearance of one skeleton that sort of tips over onto Davie when he falls into a hole and you can guess why no one involved other than Ustinov worked much after this one.
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