Johan David Wyss' novel Swiss Family Robinson had been in print for nearly fifty years before the first film version was made by RKO in 1940. Thomas Mitchell is top-billed as the patriarch of the Robinson family, who, as in the book, are shipwrecked on a tropical island and compelled to bring the edicts and values of civilization to their tiny patch of the world. To give the story a bit of topicality, screenwriters Walter Ferris, Gene Towne and Graham Baker contrive to depict the Robinsons as refugees from a foreign war (Napoleonic rather than Hitler-inspired). Produced independently by The Play's the Thing Productions and released by RKO, Swiss Family Robinson was completely withdrawn from circulation on the occasion of the 1960 Disney remake. Side note: The 1940 version represented the feature film debut of Orson Welles, who functioned as offscreen narrator.
by Hal Erickson synopsis