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Francis Barclay, a former member of the British Admiralty, who was captured in the early 1700s, and sold into slavery, by Andrew McAllister, and forced into piracy, enlists the aid of Dick Lindsay, to help him invade MacAllister's fortified island. The latter falls in love with MacAllister's daughter,Christine. Complications arise as the man thought to be a nephew of one man may not be, and the daughter one one man may be the other man's daughter. Written by
Les Adams <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The first person to review "Caribbean" on this site correctly points out that it isn't really a pirate movie. Instead, it starts out as a potentially-intriguing drama about an impersonator. Cedric Hardwicke -- as part of a revenge plot -- grooms John Payne to assume the identity of Francis L. Sullivan's nephew, even going so far as to have a scar burned into Payne's skin which matches one on the nephew's face.
It's typical of this movie's haphazard nature, however, that its "impersonator" angle is so carelessly handled. There is no scene of Payne being trained to play his role, for example, and once he assumes it, there is no scene of him being tested by any unexpected circumstances. Indeed, the fact that Payne is impersonating someone else soon becomes an inconsequential element of the plot, and the scene when he finally admits he's not Sullivan's nephew is casually tossed away.
The original reviewer is also correct in pointing out that Payne, as an actor, is not skilled at bringing out the dual nature of an impersonator. He's too "straightforward." (If "Caribbean" were to be made today, Ewan MacGregor, with his sly humor and restless intelligence, would be a more appropriate choice.) Payne is also at least ten years too old for this part, and thus it's amusing to hear him referred to as "the boy" or addressed as "m'lad."
By the early 1950s, John Payne had moved away from the clean-cut young man who romanced the likes of Betty Garble, Alice Faye, and Sonja Henie in Fox musicals. Pushing 40, he began to toughen up his image by appearing in crime dramas, westerns, and pirate movies. "Caribbean" is an obvious attempt to increase his "macho" rating during this transitional period. In it, he's involved in two fistfights and a knifefight, sports a beard in one scene, and is given several opportunities to appear bare-chested. Unlike most of his films of the 1940s, his chest has no longer been shaved and powdered to a boyish smoothness but now sprouts a healthy growth of black hair across the pecs. In his best "beefcake" scene, a sweaty Payne is shown stripped to the waist while he's forced to "walk" his way up a constantly revolving waterwheel. (Even in middle-age, Payne has the kind of fine physique which might appeal to both male and female viewers.)
The sadomasochism of this waterwheel scene never reaches the point of actual torture but the dialog in "Caribbean" often threatens Payne with gruesome violence. Cedric Hardwicke says to him: "I'll scatter your brains all over the deck." Willard Parker says: "If your name weren't MacAllister, I'd have you spreadeagled and left for the vultures." Arlene Dahl says: "You're lucky he didn't flay you alive!" And Francis L. Sullivan says: "Another word and I'll have your traitorous tongue torn out by the roots." Curiously, despite all these threats to turn Payne's body into a temple of pain, the movie's sole flogging has a black female slave as its victim.
The original reviewer perceptively mentions two faults in the movie's script: absolutely no information is given about Payne's background, (did he leave a family behind when he was abducted?), and his romance with Arlene Dahl is hurried and unconvincing. Dahl simply isn't "lovable" because her character is so artificial and her part is so woefully underwritten.
On the other hand, Cedric Hardwicke and Francis L. Sullivan make good villains and one wishes they'd had more scenes together. However, the pledge which the dying Hardwicke extracts from Payne doesn't make for an appropriate climax and thus the movie's ending seems both flat and abrupt. The battle which precedes this ending also seems a bit tiresome since the audience isn't inclined to root for either side.
"Caribbean" does have snatches of good dialog, however. When the ship's surgeon, for example, says: "If my hand misses, I'd chop it off myself" -- Hardwicke replies: "That might be difficult to do without a head." And when Dahl asks Payne: "Will the gentlemen like me?" -- Payne replies: "Yes. Until they get to know you."
Incidentally, "Caribbean" is based on a novel by Massachusetts-born Ellery Clark who won two gold medals at the 1896 Olympics in Athens.
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