Shown at beginning of film: In the early days, the life of a freighter was fraught with perils. Of these, none had a more unique experience than the American bark Olive Branch, which, on August 4, 1812, was one hundred and eight days out of port, bound from China to her home in Arundel, Maine. See more »
This is one of a multitude of films (usually of the swashbuckling-adventure variety) whose title is “Captain” someone or other; its executive producer Hal Roach had himself just directed CAPTAIN FURY (1939) which, like the film under review, I should also be watching projected on a big screen in the near future. In fact, this is my third such venture to a private theater – which appointments are frequently organized by a mutual friend of the owner (a collector of classic films on 16 and 35mm) and mine – after THE SILVER CHALICE (1954) and THE VEILS OF BAGHDAD (1953); for the record, next up should be the similarly seafaring but Technicolored RAIDERS OF THE SEVEN SEAS (1953).
Victor Mature’s third film has him in dashing form as the rugged yet peace-loving navigator hero of the title (dubbed so by the heroine herself) who’s forced into action when his on-off fiancée’s captain father is killed in battle by the British Navy during the1812 War. The daughter, who also takes her father’s place on the ship and makes some unwise alliances, is played by Louise Platt – best-known as the child-bearing snob in John Ford’s STAGECOACH (1939) – and, while being fairly decent in the role, she evidently lacks the charisma and magnetism of a Maureen O’Hara (who would later make that kind of part her own).
The film (whose director would later also helm the Douglas Fairbanks Jr. vehicle SINBAD THE SAILOR ) itself, while generally fast-paced and entertaining, is clearly below the standard of the far classier stuff Errol Flynn was concurrently filming at Warner Bros.; still, it strives to rise above these B-movie origins by packing as much action as it possibly can into the trim 85-minutes running-time – including a gladiatorial bout between Mature and a hulking, laughing brute aboard an English ship for the amusement of the aristocrats (actually serving as cover for an escape attempt below deck), and many energetic fistfights between sailors and pirates of opposing nations.
The characters are mostly caricatures – a duplicitous first mate, a stuttering stooge, a mandolin-playing immigrant, a womanizing Frenchman and his shrewish wife, a constantly grumbling old sea-hand, etc. – but the cast is interesting enough (Bruce Cabot, Leo Carillo, Roscoe Ates, Aubrey Mather and even a bearded Alan Ladd as a rabble-rousing prisoner) to keep one watching nonetheless. The condition of the print was (understandably) hardly optimal given the film’s age and status, with the hiss-filled soundtrack and some wobbly images being particular liabilities; however, as long as films of this vintage don’t appear on DVD (though TCM USA does occasionally screen such unassuming but undeniably fun fare), I’ll take any option that’s available to me.
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