Highly fictionalized account (see the IMDB 'goofs' for examples) of the life of George Armstrong Custer from his arrival at West Point in 1857 to his death at the battle of the Little Big ... See full summary »
Olivia de Havilland,
Geoffrey Thorpe, a buccaneer, is hired by Queen Elizabeth I to nag the Spanish Armada. The Armada is waiting for the attack on England and Thorpe surprises them with attacks on their galleons where he shows his skills on the sword.
Arrested during the Monmouth Rebellion and falsely convicted of treason, Dr. Peter Blood is banished to the West Indies and sold into slavery. In Port Royal, Jamaica the Governor's daughter Arabella Bishop buys him for £10 to spite her uncle, Col. Bishop who owns a major plantation. Life is hard for the men and for Blood as well. By chance he treats the Governor's gout and is soon part of the medical service. He dreams of freedom and when the opportunity strikes, he and his friends rebel taking over a Spanish ship that has attacked the city. Soon, they are the most feared pirates on the seas, men without a country attacking all ships. When Arabella is prisoner, Blood decides to return her to Port Royal only to find that it is under the control of England's new enemy, France. All of them must decide if they are to fight for their new King. Written by
It's Flynn's first big picture and it brings him together with Olivia DeHavilland, Michael Curtiz, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. It's not their best movie together but it's a terrific introduction to the parts these personalities were to play in swashbucklers.
Flynn is brash and cocky. (He didn't change much until he began to physically deteriorate later in life.) He projects his emotions the way a traffic light projects directions, with utter simplicity. There's never a moment when we doubt we know what he's thinking. He looks extremely handsome too (he was 26) without being in the least effete.
Olivia De Havilland is his perfect counterpart. She was never a raving beauty, but she's extremely feminine. She has a wide face with huge eyes, a dazzling smile, and a tinkling laugh. Where Flynn is adventurous she is cautious, thoughtful, often puzzled about her loyalties, and she holds things back, while Flynn shouts things out.
The rest of the cast is filled with familiar faces from the 30s -- J. Carol Naish, Guy Kibbee, Lionel Atwill -- and they do their jobs well.
It's a sound-stage bound movie with a lot of model work, some of it clumsy but still effective. A neatly done set is a tribute to the production designer. The banana plants grow neatly in picturesque places and the papier-mache palms beat the real thing. Natural locations are often cluttered with vegetation, but these jungles and beaches are flawless. They don't look like real locations. They look like what you wish real locations looked like.
This is Erich Wolfgang Korngold's first score for a movie. (He'd previously adapted Mendelsohn for an earlier one.) It's often claimed that Hollywood composers were child prodigies but in Korngold's case it's not an exaggeration. He was studying piano and music theory at five, conducted his own cantata (for Gustav Mahler) at nine, and had his first work published at thirteen. He was a prolific composer too -- violin concertos, two operas -- by the time he was in his mid-thirties. Max Reinhardt sent him to Hollywood to write a few scores, of which this was one. It was thrown into his lap and he had to write it almost overnight. There was simply not enough time to do it all, so he stole a little from Liszt, the scene in which the Spanish pirates are looting the town. He returned to Europe to continue his career but, well, the continent by that time was no place for a guy named Korngold, genius or not. So he returned to Hollywood until after the war when he was able to go back to Europe and renew his composing.
I don't mean to take up too much space dealing with Korngold, but the fact is that Flynn's early movies would just not be the same with anyone else. Korngold wrote music the way Flynn acted -- full of dash and bombast -- and some of it was stunningly lyrical. (The simple love song in "The Sea Hawk" has a melodic progression that defies prediction.) It's hardly worth noting that the name of this talented musician has been parodied elsewhere as "Wolfgang von Korngold" by another reviewer, Howydymax, whose penetrating insights into film fare I have usually admired and sometimes stolen from. Curtiz's direction had the same slam-bang quality as the composer's. Absolutely nothing artsy about it, a straightforward story.
There are some weaknesses in the script. When I first saw it, finally, on TV, I'd been waiting for a chance for years and was frustrated because there didn't seem to be enough action. One longish scene of sailing ships pounding each other to pieces, and one fencing match between Basil Rathbone and Flynn -- too brief for my taste. Actually, at the time Flynn wasn't comfortable with swordplay and it shows. Rathbone, on the other hand, took up the sport seriously and was evidently a pretty accomplished fencer. I've seen it again recently and enjoyed it much more, a cartoon of a movie, full of intrigue, romance, and action.
Well worth watching.
20 of 24 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?