Monday, November 09, 2009

“And that my friend ends a partnership that should never have begun.”

Okay, so the Star Wars prequels tried and failed to kill me. The Halloween Octoverride tried and failed to kill me. My laptop turning into a suicidal wreck failed to stop me. I survived, but not without leaving me with a limp and a visible shake in my left hand. Let’s wash the taste of that out with a good movie. A classic movie from 1935. A movie that was Errol Flynn’s first major role. With PIRATES! Buckle up your swashes, gents, and loosen those corsets, ladies. Its time for Captain Blood.

So, an Irish doctor gets in trouble with the crown for treating a wounded man who was part of a rebellion against King James of England (the second, presumably). Unfairly prosecuted and sold into slavery, he finds himself on a Jamaican plantation run by a jerkass governor and his hottie of a daughter. After a chance raid on the town of Port Royal allows the slaves (who, uh, all happen to be white actors: sadly a sign of the times the movie was made in) to go free and hijack a Spanish ship, the doctor, now the captain of the stolen ship, sets out with his crew to make a living of High Seas ADVENTURE!

Captain Doctor Peter Blood, MD: Errol Flynn (remember him from the glorious Adventures of Robin Hood?). Ok, so the good doctor’s a bit of a marty stu, but he’s also a perfect larger than life figure for the ADVENTURE! of the film. He’s heroic, no matter what situation, but he’s also got a sharp tongue, full of Irish impudence, particularly toward those who are corrupt or harbor (ha ha, nautical pun) fondness for King James. Rises to epic badass levels through sheer impudence and force of personality. And his name’s basically Captain Blood, MD.

Arabella Bishop: Olivia de Havilland (also from Robin Hood) plays the somewhat spoiled but by no means evil niece of the governor of Port Royal. She and Blood have some great courtly flirting scenes before Blood makes his escape, and after he’s become a pirate lord and comes across her again, she alone is the anchor (ha ha) that keeps him from drifting (ha ha) into villainy. For her, Blood turns away from his corsairing ways, and the chemistry between the actors convinces you that its worth it.

Levasseur: Basil Rathbone has a pretty small role as an amoral French pirate who becomes bro’s with Blood. The two produce a piratical partnership, but the pernicious Provencal plots to perfidiously profit from Blood’s placid patronage. This leads to a short but epic swordfight on a beach over (what else?) a woman. Arabella, to be precise.

Colonel Bishop: Lionel Atwill (from the Octoverride Frankenstein movies) plays the greedy, abusive governor Bishop, and Blood’s sworn nemesis. Not a whole lot to his character. He’s a jerk, the audience doesn’t like him. Instant villain.

There are a bunch of other characters, particularly Blood’s crew, but they only have a few quirks to differentiate themselves and its not really worth going into it. One’s a cowardly opportunist, one’s a deeply religious man, one’s a drunk, and so on. They get the job done though.

Directed by Michael Curtiz (who also co-directed The Adventures of Robin Hood and Casablanca) the movie is shot in Glorious Black & White, which thanks to the set designs and camera angles, does not hamper the vitality of the ADVENTURE! Some of the miniature work is obviously so, but nothing game breaking. The movie itself is very episodic, covering a lot of ground quickly, often with the help of expository text blocks to help move things along past the dull parts. The end result is a rocket fast ride of heroism against the odds and redemption and forgiveness, along with the standard swashbuckling swordfights and ship-to-ship fusillades that are staples of the genre. Its also a joy to watch Flynn and Rathbone duel to the death again (though this is a much shorter fight than in Robin Hood).

Casey Robinson adapted a novel by Rafael Sabatini (an Italian author who wrote several pirate stories) and throws in a lot of great dialog. Rapid fire flirting, stirring speeches, and Blood’s stubborn Impudence all get delivered with aplomb. No, its probably not very historical, but my understanding of the Age of Sail isn’t exactly expert level anyway, and the movie isn’t trying to be historical.

Erich. Wolfgang. Korngold. ‘Nuff said. Made extra awesome by the fact that reportedly he scored the film in three weeks.

Raucous High Seas ADVENTURE! Sometimes that’s all you really need to sell a movie and Captain Blood delivers it in spades. I will say that The Adventures of Robin Hood, which involves a lot of the same filmmakers and lead actors is a much more polished and in some ways better film, but Captain Blood is a great ride and a worthy precursor. Totally recommended as one of the defining Pirate ADVENTURE! films.

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