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Swiss Family Robinson (21 December 1960)

Appearing as Fritz Robinson

Synopsis from the Disney Pressbook:

Chased off course by pirates and abandoned to a howling storm by its crew, a battered ship wallows in the grip of mountainous seas. It is night. There is no sign of life on deck but below, in a cabin, the door blocked by fallen wreckage, five passengers wait out their fate in darkness.

This is a family from Berne, Switzerland, enroute to a colony in New Guinea to avoid the oppressions of an expanding Napoleonic regime. They are Father (John Mills), Mother (Dorothy McGuire), Fritz, the eldest son (James MacArthur), Ernst, the middle son (Tommy Kirk), and little Francis, the youngest son (Kevin Corcoran).

Morning finds the ship lodged fast on jagged rocks. Father and the two older boys break out to find themselves stranded just off a reef and the crescent beaches of a palm-fringed shore.

Taking firearms and food with them, the five run the gamut of wave-lashed coral to reach shore in a crude tubraft, rescuing two great danes on the way when the dogs are nearly swamped trying to follow them in. Domestic animals -- a cow, calf, donkey, two sows, goats, several crates of ducks, chickens and geese -- are left in the hold to be brought in later.

Francis and the dogs are the first ashore and Francis manages a brief ride on the back of a giant tortoise before Mother calls him back. The family kneels to pray.

A makeshift tent erected for the night is almost torn down by a great monitor lizard while, unseen, a tiger lurks in the background.

Back on the wreck next day Father, Fritz and Ernst see the pirate ship returning, but it veers off promptly when Father runs up a quarantine flag.

A herd of sharks move in as the sail-equipped tubraft is becalmed with its tow of domestic animals, each supported in the water by makeshift keg life preservers. A fight with muskets and oars against the undersea monsters seems lost until Ernst lassoes a powerful sea turtle he sees rushing shoreward. The turtle hauls the entire flotilla along with him to safety.

Meanwhile, Mother discovers Francis facing the tiger, which has surprised him as he traps a baby elephant with a baited ground noose. The great danes, Turk and Duke, drive the big cat off, and Francis gets to keep the elephant.

During construction of an elaborate family treehouse, Francis is nearly killed again while capturing a baby monkey high in the lofty structure. He loses his balance in his eagerness and only a rope, fastened around his waist as a precaution, saves him. He never lets go of the monkey in his fall.

When the four-level treehouse is completed several months later, Mother breaks down with tears of joy. There is a ground level eating and cooking patio, and three rooms in the tree itself -- a main room and two bedrooms, one for the boys and one for the parents, all completely furnished with ship’s salvage in a highly inventive manner.

Fritz and Ernst set out to explore the area in their home-made outrigger and are wrecked on the other side of the island. They are nearly thrown into the hands of the pirates when they surprise the buccaneers dividing spoils on the beach.

The spoils include a pair of captives, Captain Moreland (Cecil Parker) and his grandson Bertie. The boys have just time enough to untie and make off with Bertie before the pirates are on their heels chasing them through dense jungle.

With the exception of one victorious encounter with a huge pirate, the three make good their escape, only to meet a 20-foot anaconda in a deep and treacherous swamp. Using a kris taken from the pirate, Fritz manages to drive the serpent off.

Bertie is discovered to be a girl (Janet Munro) when she precipitates a struggle trying to escape back to the beach where her grandfather has been left. Her name is Roberta.

A sorrow-filled Christmas day at the treehouse turns into one of joy when the three straggle in, Roberta riding a zebra rescued from a waterhole. During the joyful reunion that night, Fritz and Ernst nearly come to blows over who should dance with Roberta.

All remaining supplies are taken from the wreck before it is blown out of the water to prevent re-discovery by the pirates. The family then sets about building a hilltop fortress, organizing an ingeniously lethal system of defenses which include a battery of crossbows, coconut hand grenades, a bobby-trap bridge, avalanches of logs and boulders, land mines, tree-traps and pitfalls.

Mounting tension between Fritz and Ernst over Roberta breaks into a fist fight when both try to teach her how to handle a rifle -- something she knows very well how to do. Fritz, whom Roberta obviously prefers, wins handily.

To relax frayed nerves, Father decides on a holiday with a race as the highlight event. Francis rides his elephant, Ernst an ostrich, Roberta the zebra and Fritz the donkey, while Francis’ pet monkey is put aboard Turk.

The result is a hilarious race. None of the animals are inclined to run in a straight line. Just as Francis is winning, Roberta sees the pirate junk offshore, its motley crew piling into longboats. A pistol shot starting the race has given the family away. The group rush to the hilltop barricade and take up their defenses.

Literally, the pirates are hit with everything prepared for them. After several setbacks, including an angry brush with a tiger which has been trapped in one of the pits, they gain the top of Fortress Hill for hand-to-hand fighting.

Kuala, the pirate chief (Sessue Hayakawa), displays a white flag and tries to bargain for Roberta, and feeling she can save the family from the raiders, attempts to give herself up. But Fritz seizes her and pushes her behind a rock safe from a fusillade of pirate bullets intended for her.

Suddenly, when it seems to be lost, the battle turns. Cannon fire in the bay announces the arrival of Captain Moreland aboard one of his armed merchantmen. The pirates and their ship are destroyed.

Now is the chance for the Swiss family to resume its journey to New Guinea. But in the end only Ernst decides to leave, and not for New Guinea but for a university of the grateful captain’s choosing.

Fritz and Roberta, in love, also decide to stay to help found a colony on the tropical paradise island.

Click here for more articles and information from the Pressbook.

To view a full gallery of images from this movie click here.

For more Dorothy McGuire, be sure to visit A Dorothy McGuire Tribute.

Swiss Family Robinson video case

John Mills, Tommy Kirk, Dorothy McGuire, James MacArthur

James MacArthur, Tommy Kirk

James MacArthur, Janet Munro

James MacArthur

James MacArthur, Dorothy McGuire

James MacArthur, Dorothy McGuire, James MacArthur, John Mills

Tommy Kirk, James MacArthur, Dorothy McGuire, Kevin Corcoran, John Mills, Janet Munro

James MacArthur

James MacArthur

James MacArthur


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