Treasure Train Blu-ray Review: I’m Being Punished for Something, I Know It

Normally, I’m one to welcome a kooky French flick with open arms and baguette. In the case of the French/Canadian co-production Treasure Train, originally known as The Emperor of Peru, I couldn’t help but feel I was being punished for something — though I’m not sure what dastardly sin I committed to incur the wrath of this unforgiving kiddie film. The story mostly centers on a trio of young children: a brother and sister named Toby and Liz (and played, respectively by Jonathan Starr and Anick — who, thankfully, never went on to do anything ever again), and a Cambodian refugee named Hoang (an equally unknown Ky Huot Uk), who shows up a little while after the movie starts and is greeted by his adoptive family with a meal of rice(!).

Toby is the “lead” kid here, and he daydreams constantly of being a racecar driver, a space adventurer, symphony conductor, et cetera — with his faithful pet duck, Fernando, by his side at all times. They also have an obsession with trains, which becomes a full-blown mania when they discover a locomotive engine nestled away in the woods. The engine belongs to that of a crippled old man (Mickey Rooney) who has been living in the forest for decades and now believes himself to be the Emperor of Peru (isolation and a lack of adequate medication will do that to you). With the old man’s permission and guidance, the kids start fixing the old heap up, dreaming of the day they will take it on the tracks (which it is still connected to, strangely enough) and venture to Cambodia so that Hoang may marry his mother.

I’m not making any of this shit up, kids: that’s what happens in the movie. For realsies. Directed by Spanish surrealist Fernando Arrabal (Fando and Lis), Treasure Train is essentially a dire low-budget mess aimed at kiddies. The non-professional performers (which make up for 99% of the cast) are awful, the English dubbing is so bad even I was shaking my head, and the storyline is just weird enough to make everyone feel uncomfortable — young and old alike. I think it would be safe to guess that the entire film’s budget went to Mickey Rooney’s salary, though I can’t imagine they paid him much: the movie was released in ’82, and Rooney’s career really wasn’t “on track” (pardon the pun) before then.

Rooney’s performance — though the best in the feature — is even weirder than the movie itself. As he habitually looks off to the side of the camera as he spouts his dialogue, you wonder if Arrabal didn’t film a rehearsal shoot and then call it quits shortly afterward. In one scene, Rooney’s character yells at the community’s mayor, who has come to check on him; another finds him shouting (and threatening) police officers who come to tell him they will return the following day to take him to a rest home (hey, it’s a fantasy: there’s no way in hell anyone would give a damn about a crazy old man living on his own in the woods). While these moments are probably meant to be serious, Rooney’s shrieking takes it to an entirely disturbing level of somberness — and succeed in alienating the viewer that much further.

I really have to hand it to the people at Odyssey Moving Images for having the courage to release this on Blu-ray. The video presentation is a grandiose one, with a wonderful image overall and a decent audio mix to boot, but ugh is this movie bad! But, as painful as it is to watch this dreadful family-friendly film (what, they can’t find a good print of The Secret of Magic Island, but they can release this on Blu-ray?), the budget-priced disc’s only bonus option — an all-new interview with Mickey Rooney — is even harder to watch.

Throughout the course of the 8 ½-minute featurette, it appears that the aging actor really doesn’t remember making the film or anyone on it, and fills in the conversational gaps with generic responses (he does the same with other questions that don’t surround the feature in question, which is really distressing). Frankly, whomever edited the interview should have reconsidered their method of approach, as it is evident that a Rooney-only interview was not the way to go. Maybe they should have tried to find some of the kids that were in the movie to talk to. Or, perhaps they should have opted not to include any featurettes with this one anyway, as it is so forgettable, that I don’t see their time and effort (not to mention the strain on Rooney’s memory) being worth it.

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Luigi Bastardo

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