Daniel Reviews Every Pirate Movie Ever Made

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Excellent reviews! Thanks for doing this!

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Excellent reviews! Thanks for doing this!

Thank you for the encouragement! I'm going to try to post reviews a little bit more regularly now that I've taken the bar.

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Well done daniel.

Jas. Hook ;)

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Taken the bar? You mean you've run aground? (Just kidding, congratulations.)

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Nate and Hayes DVD cover



Directed by Ferdinand Fairfax.

Featuring: Tommy Lee Jones, Miles O’Keefe, Jenny Seagrove, Max Phipps, Grant Tilly, Peter Rowley, William Johnson, Kate Harcourt, Reg Ruka, Bruce Allpress, Pudji Waseso, Prince Tui Teka.

Daniel’s rating: 4 out of 5.

Synopsis: Bully Hayes and his crew are running guns to some native rebels. Instead of paying Hayes, the rebels kill his men and chase him into the arms of Spanish bounty hunters. As Hayes awaits his hanging, he reminisces about the events that led him here.

When Hayes brought the engaged couple Nate and Sophie to Williamson’s Mission in the South Pacific, Sophie showed clear signs of falling in love with Hayes. After Hayes departs, Nate and Sophie’s wedding is interrupted by Ben Pease and his pirates, who slaughter Nate’s family, enslave the islanders, kidnap Sophie, and leave Nate for dead. To add insult to injury, Pease frames Hayes for the crime. We learn that this is standard operating procedure for Pease, who has a longstanding grudge against Hayes. Hayes never took much notice of this before, but Pease never abducted the woman Hayes loves before.

Evaluation: Making movies is all about fakery. Actors pretend to be people they aren’t, pretend to feel things they don’t, and say things that aren’t true, in front of sets that aren’t what they look like, while the special effects make living people look dead and safe people appear threatened. But there is one thing that movie makers can’t fake: a love for their material. If the actors and the director really care about what they’re doing, it will always show, and if they have contempt for it, that can’t be hidden either. Nate and Hayes is one of the first kind: a movie with heart, a movie with joy in its story, in its characters, and above all in its images.

Bully Hayes is the sort of character Kenny Rogers would have played in the 1970s, a bearded tough guy who exudes irreverence, always falls for a pretty face, and openly delights in beating stronger, richer, more socially acceptable opponents. He and Ben Pease have both fought their way up from the bottom of the heap, breaking every law in their path, but Hayes has made his fortune by crossing the rich and powerful, while Pease has made it by doing the upper crust’s dirty work. Hayes is the guy we straight males all wish we could be: effortlessly attractive to women, commanding men’s trust and loyalty, lethal in combat, rarely doubting what to do or say. The role requires the actor’s deepest reserves of confidence, and Tommy Lee Jones gives it all he has.

Michael O’Keefe’s Nate Williamson is an uptight, headstrong young preacher who is uncomfortable in his own skin. At first, it looks like he’ll be just a punching bag for Hayes, like Slezak’s Alvarado from The Spanish Main, or worse, Beau Bridges’s Major Folly from Swashbuckler. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen. Nate sheds his incompetence as the movie goes on and grows into a hero, saving Hayes’s life and earning his respect in the process. When the inevitable drunken bonding scene comes, it works because the foundation has been properly laid. And instead of going at each other’s throats over their mutual love Sophie, Nate and Hayes actually behave like civilized human beings, promise to leave the decision to Sophie, and refuse to let it get in the way of their friendship. And they both keep their word. When was the last time you saw a love triangle resolved like that?

Our leading lady, Jenny Seagrove’s Sophie, is a delight: independent minded, strong , brave, romantic, and beautiful. At the beginning, she clearly thinks she is too much woman for her fiancé, Nate, and Nate begins to suspect the same. Her main problem is that the story doesn’t have enough room for her; this is essentially a buddy movie between Nate and Hayes, and so poor Sophie spends much of the movie shunted into the damsel-in-distress role, complete with the obligatory rescue-me-from-being-a-virgin-sacrifice scene. She deserved better.

The usual trouble with a strong hero like Hayes is that he kills suspense by overmatching the villains, but there's no danger of that with Max Phipps around. His Ben Pease is everything a good pirate villain should be: greedy, ruthless, cunning, and vengeful. And boy, has he got a lot to be vengeful about - Hayes once gave him a .44-caliber vasectomy when they fought over a woman. Even better, all Pease's confrontations with Hayes are battles of wits; the two antagonists never once cross blades or trade shots on screen. And Pease is supported by an ensemble of memorable minor baddies. Grant Tilly’s Count von Rittenberg, while harmless and even sympathetic enough in himself, is both powerful and dangerous because of the strength of the Second Reich behind him. Maori rock singer Prince Tua Teke literally chews the scenery as he enjoys his rather hackneyed role as King Oatopi of Ponape. The queen of the native rebels is a menacing, regal presence; Hayes is horrified when she accidentally shoots two of her own warriors with the guns he is selling, but she just laughs and says it proves the guns work well.

Nate and Hayes is one of the most violent pirate movies ever made, doing the same thing for the genre of The Black Swan and Treasure Island that Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch did for the Western. Hayes’s entire crew gets killed off in the first ten minutes, being resurrected only by flashback; pirates massacre peaceful missionaries, chain up their innocent native hosts, and carry them off into slavery; Hayes himself graphically kills lots of attacking native rebels, including several women. Gore, screams, and death rattles visit the screen often. This is only proper for a pirate story, since the whole history of piracy is written in blood, but it was in bad taste to try to make light of the violence with Hayes’s forced one-liners, Nate waving goodbye to a drowning enemy, and the like.

The movie’s worst flaw is unnecessary strains on credibility. For example, while Hayes asks a barkeep where Pease is, one of Pease’s crew sneaks up behind Hayes, but he shoots the barkeep instead of Hayes. Hayes invents a clever trap, but then sets it in such a way that it only works through dumb luck. An explosion destroys an entire ship, but the person standing at ground zero of the blast is barely harmed. King Oatopi negotiates with a German envoy and demands shrunken heads and a virgin sacrifice, all of which he could easily obtain himself, instead of guns, ships, modern medicines, schools, or other things that only the German envoy can provide.

It must also be admitted that Nate and Hayes is a bit predictable, especially at the end (hmm, I wonder who might show up to help Hayes out of his predicament?). Also, the film’s depiction of the various South Pacific native peoples will strike some people as racist. In the movie’s defense, I would say that many of the natives are perfectly decent people, particularly the ones at Williamson’s Mission, while those that are villainous are no worse than the white pirates and colonialists. Even the inhabitants of Ponape, who are shown in the worst light, are clearly not primitives, but highly intelligent engineers who understand leverage and counterweights. But while I don’t think Nate and Hayes is racist in the sense of depicting South Pacific islanders as mentally or morally inferior, there’s no denying that the film is careless and indifferent to the reality of South Pacific societies and customs. It’s ridiculous to show the Ponapeans continuing to wear their ceremonial masks once a battle breaks out. The costumes given to the native rebels at the beginning are beyond ridiculous. And we have yet another of those native tribes where every one of the women is between ages 18 and 25 and gorgeous. Some viewers will find this unforgiveable; I didn’t.

But the best part of the film is the sheer beauty and majesty of the cinematography and the scenery. Every good pirate movie understands that the sea, the ships and the costumes are characters in themselves, just as Stetson hats, horses, and Monument Valley are characters in every good Western movie. This is where the director’s true feelings about his material show up most; no one who doesn’t feel the beauty of the white sails, the blue sea, and the gently curving palm trees can possibly translate that beauty onto the silver screen. If you think that Ferdinand Fairfax couldn’t have gone wrong shooting on location in Fiji and New Zealand, just look at the hideous footage of Roman Polanski’s Pirates, most of which was shot in dazzling Mediterranean locations. In Nate and Hayes, every hue is vivid, every line crisp. The missionary Williamsons aren’t leading their flock to paradise; they’re in paradise already. Hayes’s men are literally a motley crew, no two alike, from Blake with his beautiful burr and faded U.S. Cavalry uniform to Pegleg with his magnificent skull-and-shinbone prosthesis, to Fong’s mesmerizing eyes and dashing headband. And Hayes’s white costume with red sash and pistol is so beautiful that you can’t blame Sophie for falling in love with him.

Piratical tropes and comments: Nate and Hayes lacks most of the standard piratical tropes, mainly because it takes place much later than most pirate movies. Hayes is selling a box full of Winchester 1873 rifles to the rebels in the beginning, and lest we dismiss that as an anachronism, Rittenberg says he is the representative of “Kaiser Wilhelm,” which places the action no earlier than 1871. This means that the opening scene is probably in the Philippines, the only big overseas colony that Spain had left by the 1870s, and the site of many rebellions against Spanish rule. It also suggests that the movie is set before 1898, when the U.S. captured the Philippines in the Spanish-American War.

Indeed, it’s not immediately clear that Nate and Hayes is a pirate movie at all. Sure, Hayes bombastically says that he’s a pirate, and the Williamsons say he is, too. But Hayes never actually commits any piracy during the movie, and he says that he never pillaged anything. And the Williamsons are probably mistaking Pease's crimes for Hayes's. If Bully Hayes were tried for piracy, he would probably be acquitted. The only real pirates in this movie are Ben Pease and his men, stealing people and selling them into slavery. The slave trade by this time had specifically been defined as piracy, and that alone would be enough to send Pease to the gallows. No wonder that he says his slaves are “contract laborers.”

So, the weapons are different from most pirate movies. The swords are mostly cavalry sabers, with Fong wielding what looks like a hiltless Malay or Javan longsword. (Whatever you may have been told, Fong is not a samurai; there is no such sound as “ng” in Japanese, and that sword is nothing like a katana). Hayes and Pease both use .44 Remington revolvers, while their men rely on caplock muzzle-loading pistols; long arms of any kind are mysteriously absent. The native rebels at the beginning fight with triple-barbed spears, much like Filipino war spears. The Ponopeans use gigantic, impractical--looking spiked war clubs, which I suspect are purely imaginary.

Also unique are the ships. The Rona is a gaff-rigged schooner, while Pease’s Leonora is a brig. On both vessels, there are signs that the age of sail is ending: anchors are held by chains instead of manilla cables, the hulls are sleek and low, and neither carries any cannon, not even a swivel gun. The director deliberately contrasts the white, swanlike grace of these two vessels to the smoke-belching ugliness of a German steam-powered gunboat.

There are no Jolly Rogers in this picture. Hayes expressly – and quite falsely – says that the skull and crossbones flag is fictional. Nor are there any pirate articles; Hayes rules his crew absolutely, though not heavy-handedly.

The only eyepatch that appears is on one of the German sailors. And while one of Hayes's men does have a magnificent peg leg, Hayes and his men aren't really pirates at all.

In all, Nate and Hayes shows us just how little of the pirate trappings you need to convey the pirate ethos. No headkerchiefs, no cannons, no bucket-top boots, no flintlocks; just picaresque adventures from one danger to another with dashing heroes in sashes are all you need to give us that Jack Sparrow frisson.


Are you ready to match beards with Bully Hayes?


Sophie's many talents include lock-picking.

Nate At Sea

Even Jack Sparrow's boat was seaworthier than Nate's.

Ben Pease

Ben Pease. More brains than, well, you know.


The Leonora sweeps out from behind the headland.


How many did you get, Fong?

Native warrior women

Not all women are happy to see Hayes.

Peg Leg

Best. Peg leg. Ever.
Edited by Daniel

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PETER PAN (1953)

Directed by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, and Jack Kinney.

Featuring the voices of: Bobby Driscoll, Kathryn Beaumont, Hans Conried, Bill Thompson, Paul Collins, Tommy Luske, Candy Candido, Tom Conway, Heather Angel.

Daniel's rating: 3 out of 5.

Synopsis: It’s Wendy Darling’s last night in the nursery with her brothers John and Michael, before her father sends her to live alone in a room of her own. On this last night Peter Pan come to the nursery to take the three children flying away to Neverland, where children never grow up, but where they do need a mother like Wendy. The only grownups in Neverland are a crew of wicked pirates led by Captain Hook and his bumbling bosun Smee, who are always searching futilely for Peter Pan and his never-grown-up Lost Boys. But Peter Pan’s pixie companion Tinkerbell is very jealous of Wendy, and that may prove Peter Pan’s undoing .

Evaluation: Peter Pan and Treasure Island are the two most popular pirate stories ever written in English, and they are as different as Ashley Olsen and Clint Eastwood. Treasure Island is a very masculine story, full of danger, violence, and virtue battling depravity, driven by Jim Hawkins’s search for gold, for manhood, and the lost father that he naively believes he has found again in Long John Silver. Peter Pan is a feminine, childlike fantasy, just as much about Wendy Darling as it is about Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie’s novel was titled Peter and Wendy), and is about the magic of being a child and having the childish imagination. Treasure Island is about Jim Hawkins growing up; Peter Pan is about Wendy Darling staying a child, at least for a while longer, while Mr. Darling regains a little of the child he once was.

Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn't grow up, is carefree and contemptuous of danger, seemingly unaware of his own mortality. He is interested in Wendy because she tells stories about him, which he tells to the Lost Boys, and when he invites her to Neverland, he wants her to be a mother there. All the girls in the story, though, want to be Peter's romance, not his mom, - Wendy, Tiger Lily, the mermaids, and most especially Tinkerbell - and the bizarre thing is that he never notices this. Even when Tinkerbell tries to murder Wendy, Peter never figures out that this is jealousy at work; all he understands is that Tinkerbell has betrayed the gang, and so he banishes her. Ironically, Peter is voiced by Bobby Driscoll, the same child star who played Jim Hawkins in the 1950 Treasure Island, who would die tragically from the effects of drugs and alcohol before the age of 40, an end more reminiscent of Captain Flint than Jim Hawkins or Peter Pan.

Wendy is just on the cusp of growing up; she is already half a mother to her younger brothers, and clearly her being sent out of the nursery will mean the end of her childhood. And she already has grown-up attitudes and prejudices; she is jealous of Peter, demands that they can't stay in Neverland like "savages," and is quite ready to drown rather than become a pirate.

The villain, Captain James Hook, is really the most remarkable character in the story. He is the only grown-up of the three leads. And what is it that marks him as a grown-up? The sound he always hears: tick-tock, tick-tock. Time is running out. Death is nearing. With this tortured soul as his main example of adulthood, no wonder Peter Pan doesn't want to grow up. From the moment we meet Hook, he is hunting Peter, who cut his hand off in a fight long ago. But why was Captain Hook fighting Peter in the first place? My best guess is plain envy. He can't stand having someone else around who do plainly doesn't suffer the constant terror of death.

But Peter Pan, for all that it says to grown-ups, or just reveals about them, is really meant for children. It wasn't a random whim when Barrie willed the rights to Peter Pan to a children's hospital charity; he imagined this story cheering children who were sick, some perhaps dying. How good is Peter Pan for them? Well, when I was a kid I loved it; now that I’m grown, my own son loves it; and I think most children will too. Being a child means having the Unknown much closer around you, always at arm's reach, sometimes close enough to bite. That’s not just because you haven't had all your schooling yet, but because you haven't had time yet to recognize patterns that adults see instantly. You don't know yet that the mad killer under the bed is a phantom while the drunk driver is an omnipresent threat; you don’t know yet that buried treasure and an M.D. degree aren’t equally plausible paths to wealth. The constant presence of the Unknown gives children a capacity for fear and wonder that shrinks or dies as we grow up. Children's feelings about a story depend on what you put in that so-huge, so-close Unknown. So when you tell them that the Unknown beyond the second star to the right contains not the monster under the bed, but Indians and mermaids, hollow trees and pirates, and Captain Hook can be avoided because there you can FLY, you will get that squeal of delight that only children can make.

Piratical tropes and comments: Peter Pan is one of the least credible pirate movies ever made, because Hook's pirates don't seem to be interested in stealing anything. There aren't even any other ships to attack or towns to plunder. Maybe this is why the pirates seem to be perpetually mad at Smee when he serves them their thin victuals.

Barrie wrote that Hook looked like "the ill-fated Stuarts," and he certainly could pass for Charles II in this movie with his long wig and coat, sinister mustache, narrow face, and stockings. His shoes are bizarre, with something like wings protruding from the ankle; whether this is a Disney invention or some short-lived period fashion I can't imagine. He acts like an absolute monarch, too, abusing his confederate Smee and shooting one of his own men out of the rigging for singing annoying songs.

Hook's hook is a trope in itself, of course. Obviously, he’s named after his prosthesis; Barrie wrote that revealing Hook’s true name would have scandalized the country. This is the story that made the hook a fixture in pirate mythology. Some real pirates lost a hand, for sure – Christopher Condent was nicknamed “Billy One-Hand” – but there’s no proof that any used hooks.

Hook's sword is a complete anachronism; a. 19th century épée de duel with cup guard. The other pirates stick to short cutlasses that are perhaps a bit wider and straighter in the blade than typical pirate cutlasses, but would certainly serve for hacking and stabbing on a crowded deck.

One last accessory that the movie’s Hook retains from Barrie is a double cigar holder. Unlike most of Barrie’s pirate images, this one never caught on; I’ve never seen a cigar holder in any subsequent pirate movie, much less a double one. I severely doubt this is period; cigars weren’t popular yet in the 18th century. The period paintings show pipes and snuff boxes, not cigar holders.

Probably the most important trope that Peter Pan popularized is walking the plank, done here face forward (not sidewise as in Pyle’s picture), and with the hands tied, but no blindfold, although Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. had already walked the narrow timber road in The Black Pirate. There are two cases from the 19th century where pirates did this, and one from the 1750s when mutineers used the plank, but there are no known cases from the Golden Age.

Smee and the other pirates are very different from Hook, ragged and ugly and brutal. Smee where’s the usual backward-bending sailor’s cap bends backward, and he wears sandals, one of the very few screen pirates to do so. The other pirates tend to go for the headkerchief style popularized by Howard Pyle.

Peter Pan follows the Black Pirate in having the pirates’ victims all tied to the mast as they await their fate. At least one 19th century pirate victim was reported being tied to the mast and tortured, and Captain Low once burnt a ship with the cook tied to the mainmast, but tying bunches of people to the mast at once probably wasn’t practical.

Lastly, this is the only pirate movie I can recall where the pirates try to force prisoners to sign the articles under threat of death. Refusal means the plank. I can’t imagine why this hasn’t been used more often. Real pirates did this all the time, notably Roberts and Low. And it has such dramatic potential, as we see when Wendy refuses and faces her death on the plank so bravely. I want to see more movies, and more stories, that deal with this.

Hook V Peter

Peter Pan brings a knife to a swordfight;
luckily, that's all he needs

Neverland Map

Every pirate map should have an Indian Camp,

a Cannibal Cove, a Mermaid Lagoon, and a Skull Rock.

Mermaids And Peter

All this female attention can't be good for Peter.


Tinkerbell, have you been up to no good again?

Hook, meet Croc

Hook, meet Crocodile. Crocodile, meet . . . oh.

You already know each other.

Cloud ship

Words couldn't possibly improve this picture.

All tied Up

"How're we doing?" "Same as always."

"That bad, eh?"

Wendy diving board

Greg Louganis never had to do this

with his hands tied.

Edited by Daniel

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That's an interesting compare and contrast with the other pieces of seminal pirate fiction. I've never even thought about it. (Then again, I don't think I've seen Peter Pan since I was a young 'un.)

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CaptainBlood poster


Directed by Michael Curtiz.

Featuring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone, Lionel Atwill, Ross Alexander, Guy Kibbee, Henry Stephenson, Forrester Harvey, Pedro de Cordoba, George Hassell, Leonard Mudie.

Daniel’s rating: 3 ½ out of 5.

Synopsis: Irish doctor Peter Blood is happily indifferent to Monmouth’s rebellion against King James II, but he readily answers the call to treat a wounded rebel, and for this he is sentenced to slavery in Jamaica. Arabella Bishop, a rich planter’s daughter, first buys Blood to save him from death in the sulfur mines, and then arranges a soft job for him as doctor to Jamaica’s gouty, gormless governor. Blood, though, is not content with personal comfort. He means to escape and turn pirate in revenge against the King. But he may not be able to have both Arabella and his vengeance.

Evaluation: Five of Rafael Sabatini’s pirate novels were adapted into major movies. They were The Sea Hawk, The Black Swan, and a trio of tales that started life as a series of short stories about an Irish physician turned buccaneer: Captain Blood: His Odyssey, Captain Blood Returns and The Fortunes of Captain Blood. In all these works, Sabatini showed a flair for writing magnificent heroes, larger than life in their courage, intelligence, and strength, but with flaws as big as their virtues.

The movie Captain Blood is a simple story – much simpler than the novel, much of which was cut. It’s one man’s triumph over adversity all the way, as one might expect for a Depression-era movie. A simple story is probably harder to make well than a more complex one, because there’s less novelty to sustain the viewer’s interest, and thus Michael Curtiz deserves all credit for keeping Captain Blood a riveting watch all the way through, even during the long second act on Jamaica. Blood is a great character; not just deadly and determined with a sword, but a clever planner, a wise and compassionate leader, and brilliant in his reading of men (though not of women, to his regret). Above all, he’s stubborn, refusing ever to accept the bad hand life has dealt him or stop fighting against it. There are some forces you can’t destroy, like King James or the Depression, but you can still outlast them, and that’s just what Blood does.

At the same time, Blood has big flaws in the true Sabatini style, although the grand hubris he had in the novel is softened here into something more like naivete. Blood blithely assumes that he won’t get in trouble for dressing a rebel’s injuries because “Christian men don’t make war on the wounded.” Even when a royal officer threatens to hang him, Blood is so overconfident that he mouths back to the officer. And when he’s drunk, he can make serious errors in judgment, as he himself recognizes. The main reason Blood is determined to save his fellow prisoners, not just himself, is his sense of guilt toward them: they had fought against King James’s tyranny back when he, Blood, had been ignoring it.

Blood’s lady love, Arabella Bishop, is well drawn too. Though no more experienced than Flynn, Olivia de Havilland is much more confident and convincing in her role. She’s independent of her bullying uncle Bishop, and fascinated but not at all intimidated by the beautiful Peter Blood. She saves his life on multiple occasions, is attracted rather than by offended by his refusal to flatter her, and finally comes to understand his resentment of being bought by her when he turns the tables on her.

The worst problem with Sabatini’s novel is that none of its villains equals Blood in stature, probably because each of the short stories the novel grew from had to offer its own little bad guy for Blood to beat. The movie doesn’t completely overcome this problem – Mr. Bishop is a contemptible adversary for Blood – but Basil Rathbone’s Captain Levasseur is another story. Handsome, dangerous, and ruthless, Levasseur admires Blood at first for his success, but then fatally underestimates him. His duel scene with Blood is the highlight of the film; Levasseur takes a mad joy in sword-fighting and is certain that, having been outwitted once by Blood, he now has his opponent where he wants him. We can almost envy Levasseur when he dies doing what he loves most.

What about drawbacks? Well, strange to say, the worst problem with the movie is Flynn himself. Captain Blood made Flynn a star, but it’s safe to say that it was his Adonis-like beauty that did it, not his acting. He does reasonably well in the early scenes, but every now and again a weird, forced grin crosses his face. Then, in the later scenes, when he is called on to inspire his men, his every word becomes forced, a problem aggravated by the clunky dialogue (much of it not Sabatini’s). Flynn soon outgrew this – his rabble-rousing scenes in The Sea Hawk and The Adventures of Robin Hood showed boundless charisma – but he was clearly still cutting his leading-man teeth in Captain Blood. Also, Curtiz’s comedy is often too broad, especially in the closing scene, as well as with the odious comic relief of Forrester Harvey’s Nuttall and the brainless Governor Steede.

There is a very strong supporting cast egging the leads on, notably Guy Kibbee as Blood’s graceless but honest gunner Hagthorpe, and a deliciously evil Leonard Mudie as Judge Jeffreys, the man behind the Bloody Assizes that killed and enslaved hundreds of Monmouth’s followers.

Sabatini will never cast as long a shadow on pirate literature as Stevenson or Barrie have, but he did something neither of those two more famous writers did: he introduced us to the pirate as a hero, not a villain. Without that idea, Flynn wouldn’t have become a star. Nor, very likely, would Fairbanks.

Piratical tropes and comments: Captain Blood begins in 1685 and ends in 1688, the exact duration of King James II’s reign.

The movie has a mixed record on historical accuracy. It has some magnificently rendered ship models, most especially the Spanish ship that Flynn and his men capture to start their pirate careers, but many of these were built for Napoleonic-era movies, and have square-rigged mizzen sails instead of lateen mizzens. The cannon are accurately shown being fired with linstocks.

Captain Blood follows a common trope for early pirate movies: thick slashing cutlasses for the men, but elegant dueling swords for the heroic captain. In this case, Flynn and Levasseur fight with smallswords. The fencing style, though, is more suited to early rapier cut-and-thrust technique, which is much more cinematic than the extremely linear, speedy, thrusting-only tactics that would have been used with the smallswords.

We also see one of the very few moments in film where pirates wear armor. Blood’s men use Spanish morions and cuirasses, which is partly justified because they’ve ambushed Spanish troops and taken their gear, but which are still anachronisms because by 1687 the Spanish hadn’t used morions for decades.

A great deal of attention is paid to Blood’s articles, which are glossed over in the original novel. They are closely modeled on Henry Morgan’s articles, even specifying the same number of pieces of eight that Morgan offered for each wound, although the option of taking your compensation in slaves is mercifully omitted. We get to see a division of treasure according to these articles, with the extra shares for the maimed; in some dubious comedy, one pirate purposely shoots off his own toe to get the extra money.

Blood’s Jolly Roger is unique: a white banner with a skull above interlocked arms, both wielding swords. The white color and the implication of brotherhood in the crossed arms are perhaps inspired by the mythical Captain Misson’s flag. Unfortunately, the buccaneers hoist it only once for practice, and after that it serves for a few seconds as a transparent overlay for a montage of implied derring-do. We never see it again.

Port Royal is represented with Spanish-style adobe walls, square towers and tile roofs, appropriately enough for a former Spanish colony. But it has been provided with sulfur mines to threaten Blood with; Jamaica actually had no mining industry until the 20th century. Bishop is a sugar planter, which we would expect. His slaves are shown working a gigantic machine whose purpose is not apparent: it has a giant horizontal wheel for the slaves to turn, and a giant vertical wheel which is water-powered, linked by a second vertical wheel which doesn’t seem to do anything at all.

Levasseur’s wardrobe is a perfect Halloween pirate costume; puffy-sleeved linen shirt, sash belt, bandolier belt, and tight trousers with high boots. Other clothing is surprisingly restrained, with Blood often appearing a simple waistcoat. The most luxuriously dressed characters are the Bishops, uncle and niece both. Broad-brimmed 17th century plumed hats are common. Periwigs do appear on Governor Steede and Judge Jeffrys, but not on others who you’d expect, like Mr. Bishop. Sabatini has Blood himself wearing a periwig at his trial, but Curtiz doesn’t, appreciating that modern audiences won’t cheer for a fop.

Peter Blood

Peter Blood, M.D., sometimes forgets
the Hippocratic Oath.

Arabella Bishop

Arabella Bishop can buy me for ten pounds
any time she wants.

Cannonfire At night

No, Bud Light!


Basil Rathbone really sinks his teeth

into the role of Levasseur.

Blood's Jolly Roger

Blood's Jolly Roger. I want one, I want one!

The Judge

Leonard Mudie's Judge Jeffrys
and his Periwig of Evil.

Bishop In trouble

This is exactly why we don't give
slaves armor. Or swords.

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It's been ages since I've seen that one, but I remember liking Rathbone's portrayal in particular. I wish they'd remake this like they started to do a while back... it would be good for my website hits. ;)

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That would be an interesting exercise: how to cast a modern Captain Blood.

A few years ago I would have said Kenneth Branagh for Blood, but he's a bit too old now. Today, I think I'd go with Jonathan Rhys-Meyers.

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