Making Movies In Laguna


As film lovers flock to see the Newport Beach Film Festival’s 350-film line-up showing through May 5, The Indy rewinds for readers a splice of local film history.

By Jane Janz, Special to the Independent

Dennis Morgan, who would go on to become a major star in the ‘40s, in a dramatic role with actress Steffi Duna in “Sea Bandit,” which was shot at Treasure Island.
E. Alyn Warren and Steffi Duna in a scene from “Sea Bandit,” where the rocky cove of Treasure Island is clearly visible.

For Hollywood filmmakers Laguna Beach had something special to offer. They could drive 50 miles and be able to film in a setting that looked like Cape Cod, the South Seas, the rum-runners favorite landing spot, or be shipwrecked on an island. It had coves, beaches, and cliffs not available anywhere else. And starting with the silent film era prior to 1929, they returned time after time with their cameras, lights and props. They built lighthouses, carried in palm trees, and built faux Italian cottages on the cliffs.
The year 1935, for example, saw film-making in full swing. Out in Three Arch Bay, Warner Bros.’ “Captain Blood” had just finished scenes of Errol Flynn doing his fancy sword work. That was followed by Paramount’s “Give Us This Night,” also at Three Arch Bay, starring Jan Kiepura and Gladys Swarthout as well as many of the local kids used as extras. The third movie made the same year was “Sea Bandits,” filmed at what was then called Goff Island, later renamed Treasure Island.
This movie must have set a record for titles. It was released in 1936 by Academy Pictures both as “Sea Bandits” and as “I Conquer the Sea,” and at one time was also dubbed “Thrill of a Century.” For this film Treasure Island was transformed into a whaling village like that of Newfoundland. The film crew had just returned from New Zealand where they shot scenes of whale harpooning. It starred the up and coming actor-singer Dennis Morgan.  Even with the primitive sound systems of the day his voice was golden.
Author Jane Petty Janz is a local historian.


A promotional window display card for “Sea Bandit,” one of many early Hollywood films where Laguna Beach’s coastline provided the backdrop.


Share this:


  1. Hello,
    I’m doing some research on silent films shot in Orange County. My great-great-aunt Beatrice Dominguez was a silent film actress. Rex Ingram directed her in ‘Under Crimson Skies’ filmed in Laguna Beach with Elmo Lincoln. If you could be so kind to contact me I’d appreciate it.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here