Quick Hit: Still an exemplary pirate movie, it will forever be a standard to which I hold the swashbuckling genre.
Once upon a time, before there was the Second World War, the world was on edge. You see, there was a little man called Hitler that had riled up an entire country, and then began to rile up the entire world. After WWI, quite a few Americans were looking for a way to “stick their head in the sand” as it were, and did so using American Cinema – early talkies were taking Hollywood by storm, particularly horror and adventure films (one might even call them escapist films).
It was on one of those films that the great Warner Brothers studio took the chance on an unknown Tasmanian named Errol Flynn. He stars as Peter Blood, a doctor who treats the wrong man and is quickly sentenced to exile in the Caribbean for rebelling against the king. There is a young woman, Arabella Bishop (Olivia de Havilland) whose uncle Colonel Bishop runs a slave labor group. She buys Blood, who quickly shows himself intelligent and infinitely charming. Eventually, he becomes a pirate in the greatest way possible.
This film changed the course of Hollywood history, and I still can’t believe how few people have even heard of it to this day. Errol Flynn became the swashbuckling hero for the American people, and then he became an addict – to women, to drugs, and most of all to alcohol. But here, you can see exactly why he became the star he was – charm simply flows off of him, in a way that it does all the great Hollywood stars. Even better, he has infinite chemistry with de Havilland (they went on to be in somewhere between nine and twelve films if I recall), and great chemistry with the other members of the cast as well.
The story is very good as well, and it’s consistently sold by even those whose acting I didn’t particularly enjoy. Many movies from the 30s feature someone like the Governor’s character as comedic relief, but rarely are the used effectively. Here, the silly grins and groans do actually add to the characterization of Blood – you can see it across Flynn’s face.
Along with that, the effects, which were all done in miniaturization or on a studio stage, are magnificent for the 1930s. Warner Brothers spent what was considered a fortune on this film (one million dollars), but were handsomely rewarded. I think my favorite scene lies later in the movie though, in a scene that has very few effects at all, and shows exactly what Flynn was to become in Hollywood – a swashbuckler. When he (P.S. I guess this is spoilers, but I’m not putting a break in for a movie that came out 80 years ago) and the French pirate battle on the beach, it’s a terrific sword fight. It’s easy to see that movies like The Princess Bride drew inspiration when choreographing the Greatest Sword Fight of all time (in fact, if you read the book I suggested in that post, Elwes talks about watching old Errol Flynn films).
All in all, we couldn’t be starting off Pirate Weeks here at DoubleFeaturePreachers with a better film. Captain Blood is a pirate’s life for me, through and through. I’m giving it a solid “A”.
For more on this movie check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"