The Secret of Treasure Island

The Secret of Treasure Island is a 1938 Columbia movie serial based on Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Treasure Island.[2] The serial is broken into fifteen chapters.[2] Reporter Larry Kent travels to an island in the Caribbean to investigate the disappearance of his colleague, and discovers that the island contains a lost treasure trove of gold. Kent meets Toni Morrell, the daughter of a shipmate whose partner knew the location of the treasure, who helps him in his investigation and they search for the treasure together. During their investigation they are opposed by a villain named Collins and Dr. X., who attempts to kill Kent. Kent defeats Dr. X. in the final installment of the serial.

The Secret of Treasure Island
Theatrical release poster
Directed byElmer Clifton
Produced byGeorge M. Merrick
Jack Fier
Louis Weiss
Screenplay byElmer Clifton
L. Ron Hubbard
George M. Merrick
George Rosener
Based onTreasure Island
by Robert Louis Stevenson
StarringDon Terry
Gwen Gaze
Walter Miller
Grant Withers
George Rosener
Hobart Bosworth
Music byAbe Meyer
CinematographyEdward Linden
Herman Schopp
Edited byEarl Turner
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • March 2, 1938 (1938-03-02)
CountryUnited States

The story was written by L. Ron Hubbard, at the time a writer of pulp fiction who went on to found the Scientology religion.[3] Associate producer Louis Weiss hired Elmer Clifton to direct, and Yakima Canutt worked on the action sequences. The serial was well received by fans, and William C. Cline wrote positively of the action sequences in his book In the Nick of Time: Motion Picture Sound Serials. The serial received a one and a half star rating from Allmovie.


The serial is set on a remote island in the Caribbean, where reporter Larry Kent (Don Terry) and his enemies search for a lost treasure trove of gold. Kent arrives on the island in search of another reporter who had gone missing. Kent discovers that valuable lost treasure is buried on the island, and finds half of a map which holds a clue to its location. Toni Morrell (Gwen Gaze), the daughter of a shipmate whose murdered partner knew where the treasure was buried, agrees to help Kent investigate his friend's disappearance and locate the treasure. Morrell and Kent are opposed by a villain named Collins (Walter Miller) who uses his henchmen and supply of weapons and land mines in an attempt to stop them. Kent's enemy in the film is Dr. X. (Hobart Bosworth) who wears a skull mask and pirate clothing, and is in the process of developing a powerful explosive. Due to the actions of Dr. X., Kent is nearly buried alive, killed with dynamite and slashed in a sword battle. He defeats Dr. X. in the last installment of the serial titled "Justice".[2][4][5]



Columbia announced plans to produce the serial in a June 29, 1937 press release describing their 1937-38 program.[6] It was the third serial by Columbia, and the first of five costume chapter-plays.[1] According to Columbia, the story was updated from Treasure Island, and adapted to fit the time period;[2] L. Ron Hubbard asserted instead that he had adapted the screenplay from his novel Murder at Pirate Castle.[7] An advertisement in the Motion Picture Herald described Hubbard as a "famous action writer, stunt pilot and world adventurer", and stated that he had written an "excitement-jammed yarn with one of the best box office titles in years".[8] After his work on The Secret of Treasure Island, L. Ron Hubbard also helped with the script for the 1941 Columbia movie serial, The Spider Returns.[9]

Producer Jack Fier brought in Louis Weiss as associate producer, and hired Elmer Clifton to direct.[1] Yakima Canutt worked on the action sequences in this serial and in The Mysterious Pilot, which William C. Cline, author of In the Nick of Time: Motion Picture Sound Serials referred to as "outstanding" work.[1] Earl Bun and Ken Peach handled special effects for the serial, including work on the appearance of the mysterious pirate villain.[1]


The serial was well received by fans, and helped to solidify Columbia's presence in movie serials.[1] Hal Erickson of Allmovie gave the serial a rating of one and a half stars.[4] In his book In the Nick of Time: Motion Picture Sound Serials, William C. Cline described the action in the serial as "well paced and lively".[1] Alan G. Barbour's book Days of Thrills and Adventure: History of the American motion picture serial from 1930-50 called The Secret of Treasure Island "one of Columbia's few good serials", and described actor Don Terry's performance as "excellent".[10]

The serial was highlighted as part of "Serial Fest 2002" in Pennsylvania, which also included serials Batman and Robin, Mysterious Doctor Satan and The Adventures of Rex and Rinty.[11][12] The serial was shown along with the 1922 Down to the Sea in Ships at the 2006 Memphis Film Festival, and in an article about the festival John Beifuss of The Commercial Appeal called the two serials "Elmer Clifton classics".[13]

Chapter titles


  1. The Isle of Fear
  2. The Ghost Talks
  3. The Phantom Duel
  4. Buried Alive
  5. The Girl Who Vanished
  6. Trapped by the Flood
  7. The Cannon Roars
  8. The Circle of Death
  9. The Pirate's Revenge
  10. The Crash
  11. Dynamite
  12. The Bridge of Doom
  13. The Mad Flight
  14. The Jaws of Destruction
  15. Justice


  1. Cline, William C. (1997). In the Nick of Time: Motion Picture Sound Serials. McFarland. pp. Pages 29, 164, 169, 182, 221. ISBN 0-7864-0471-X.
  2. Harmon, Jim; Donald F. Glut (1973). The Great Movie Serials: Their Sound and Fury. Routledge. pp. Page 329. ISBN 0-7130-0097-X.
  3. Malko, George (1970). Scientology: The Now Religion. Delacorte Press. pp. Page 38. ISBN 1-112-96373-1.
  4. Erickson, Hal. "The Secret of Treasure Island". Allmovie. Macrovision Corporation. Retrieved 2008-03-06.
  5. Weiss, Ken; Ed Goodgold (1972). To Be Continued... A Complete Guide to Motion Picture Serials. New York: Bonanza Books. p. 135. ISBN 0-517-50340-9.
  6. Staff (June 30, 1937). "Columbia to Make 62 Feature Films: Company's 1937-38 Program Includes 126 Shorts and Four Serial Pictures". The New York Times. The New York Times Company.
  7. Pendle, George (2005). Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons. Harcourt. pp. Page 254. ISBN 0-15-100997-X.
  8. Miller, Russell (1987). Bare-faced Messiah: The True Story of L. Ron Hubbard. Michael Joseph books. pp. Chapter 4: Blood and Thunder. ISBN 0-7181-2764-1.
  9. Harvey, Dennis (May 12, 2000). "Battlefield Earth Review". Variety. Reed Business Information. Retrieved 2008-03-06.
  10. Barbour, Alan G.; William K. Everson; Buster Crabbe (1970). Days of Thrills and Adventure: History of the American motion picture serial from 1930-50. Collier Books. pp. Pages xx, 99, 129.
  11. Mervis, Scott (May 10, 2002). "Watch Out For Dinosaurs: Super serials". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. 2.
  12. Weiskind, Ron (May 4, 2002). "New Multiplex to Open in Sarver". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. C-8.
  13. Beifuss, John (June 16, 2006). "Blast from the past -- Memphis Film Festival draws classic characters with plenty of boomer appeal". The Commercial Appeal. p. G4-5.
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