This weekend, after begin subjected to the whopping two-star reviewed newest installment of Pirates of the Caribbean, people may be looking for a more satisfying swashbuckling movie. Something with classic action, not the kind that melts your eyeballs and all laws of physics. A wholesome hero you won’t be too embarrassed about your kids emulating is helpful, even if it is entertaining to see your four year old stagger around asking why the rum is gone. Add in just a dash of romance and Michael Curtiz’s Captain Blood from 1935 may be a perfect way to balance out this pirate weekend.
When Doctor Peter Blood (Errol Flynn) goes to treat men injured in an attempt to throw King James II off the throne, he is arrested for treason with the others. Rather than waste the men on hanging, they are shipped to Port Royal in the Caribbean colonies to be sold as slaves. As the men are being bought like livestock, the Governor’s niece, Arabella Bishop (Olivia de Havilland), buys Peter to save him from an even crueler slave-driver than her uncle. Nonetheless, the conditions Peter and his comrades endure are terrible and the punishment for trying to escape is branding. When his owners realize that Peter is a doctor, he is given less manual labor jobs and makes house-calls, mostly for an old big wig’s flares of gout. This also helps Peter plan an elaborate escape for all of the slaves.
You know what works better than their plan? Pirates blasting Port Royal into chaos. In all the confusion, Peter and the men escape and take over the pirate ship. Since they are not welcome in England and will only become slaves again in Port Royal, they band together as pirates and go pillaging on the high seas with Peter acting as captain.
This is old fashioned, good time pirating we see in Captain Blood. We see how they share the treasure equally and those injured or missing limbs from battle get a hefty bonus. Peter enacts some rather strict rules for for these pirates, including never taking women hostages. This code is more honorable and followed through more than just guidelines. Yet, there is still some time to spend in Torguga living up a drunken yo-ho pirate’s life.
The French pirate, Captain Levasseur (Basil Rathbone), is an interesting opposite to Captain Blood. He is a more ruthless man, drinking more rum and having several wenches. I love his spot on the beach with a hammock strung between palm trees and barrels of rum around. He proposes that he and Blood work together, making a sort of a pirating franchise, but when he wants to take Arabella as his personal prize (a big no-no in Blood’s code) he and Blood duke it out the best way pirates can, a sword fight on the beach.
I can only think of one downside to Captain Blood: It takes a while to get to the juicy, fun pirate part of the film. But once we’re there, there’s no going back and it is quite a fun ride full of blasting cannons, sword fights, lots of loot and wind in the sails.
“Up that rigging, you monkeys! Aloft! There’s no chains to hold you now. Break out those sails and watch them fill with the wind that’s carrying us all to freedom!”