Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Review of Captain Blood

I've recently gotten involved in a 7th Sea campaign, and I've been poking around for proper inspiriation. "Captain Blood" released in 1935, is a classic of the pirate movie genre. Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, and Olivia de Havilland in all their black-and-white glory with a soundtrack provided by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Unlike movies in the current uptight and pretentious age we live in, a fun flick like "Captain Blood" could be, and was, nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.

The story is based on a romantic action novel in the style of Dumas. Our hero, Peter Blood, a man in the prime of his life whose done a bit of everything, has finally settled down to practice medicine in the sleepy English countryside. Unfortunately, that countryside boils over into open rebellion against James II, the last hurrah for Catholicism in England. Dr. Blood is caught doing what he sees as his christian duty for one of the wounded rebels. Narrowly escaping the hangman's noose, the king's justice ships him and other rebels to Port Royal to work as slaves in the sugar plantations. He and the other rebels escape, capture a ship, and set to wreaking havoc on English shipping throughout the Caribbean.

"Captain Blood" is the sort of movie that filled my lazy summer afternoons: a pre-70's flick with larger-than-life heroes, exotic locales, a dash of romance, and a lot of swashbuckling action. It lures young men in with the promise of action and adventure, and then proceeds to give them a sermon on proper manly behavior in the person of the nearly flawless hero. That sort of thing can be cloying after a while, but Blood's thirst for vengeance and his openly thieving ways keep it from getting too thick. The action is very much of its time, with the clash of epees and the back-and-forth swish-swish-clatter-swish of old-style movie swordplay.

The pirates don't show up until nearly halfway through the movie, but they arrive with a vengeance, storming into Port Royal in-mass, overwhelming the garrison and demanding two-hundred thousand pieces-of-eight from the governor. Flynn gets to square off against Rathbone's beastly French pirate in a duel on a beach over Ms. de Havilland's character, of course, and stirring speeches are made about the value of freedom. Dr.-turned-slave-turned-Captain Blood and Ms. Bishop spar and scratch at each other throughout the film, only finally confessing their love in the final moments, to nobody's surprise.

All in all, a fun little flick if you can look past the 1930's era special effects, costuming, and plotting. It does what it does very, very well, but what it does isn't quite what you and I today might ask for in a pirate movie. If you're in the mood for a light little bit of playful fun, with excellent acting, good music, and stirring speeches, you could do far worse than the movie that launched Errol Flynn's career as a leading man.

6 comments:

squidman said...

this is the pirate movie, just like his version of the robin hood

barrataria said...

One of my favorite movies of all time. My view is: perhaps many/most pirate movies with special effects should have spent more time/money on the story and quality of actors and less on the tentacled faces or the Geena Davis costumes. YMMV.

Note that Sabatini's book is equally excellent and available via Project Gutenberg.

Christopher B said...

As much as I love Captain Blood, I still think I like The Black Swan just a bit more. Of course, that's just me...

Chris said...

The stars of "Pirates of the Caribbean" can only sigh and wish they were a patch on the original Captain Tightpants.

That said, I prefer "The Sea Hawk" myself. The political allegory was timely, the monkey steals every scene he's in, and the courtly romance between Flynn and Flora Robson is touching and charming in a way that Hollywood has long forgotten.

*wombles off to watch some Flynning*

Matthew Slepin said...

I still find it odd that people have trouble watching older films like this. Maybe because I grew up watching them. I recall first seeing Capt. Blood in the 5th grade, when I was sick with mononucleosis. I saw it again just a few months ago. Still great.

mxyzplk said...

I watched that as prep for my current pirate campaign too. Make sure and watch "Nate and Hayes"! It's also a great pirate movie.