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The Master of Ballantrae (1953)

Approved | | Action, Adventure, History | 5 August 1953 (USA)
Two noble Scottish brothers deliberately take opposite sides when Bonnie Prince Charlie returns to claim the throne of Scotland in order to preserve the family fortune.



(screenplay), (additional dialogue)

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Complete credited cast:
Beatrice Campbell ...
Mervyn Johns ...
Charles Goldner ...
Ralph Truman ...
Maj. Clarendon
Francis De Wolff ...
Matthew Bull (as Francis de Wolff)
Jacques Berthier ...
Capt. Arnaud


Buckle on your swashes for this swashbuckling adventure with a highlander who fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie who, after various escapades, becomes a pirate. Written by Steve Crook <steve@brainstorm.co.uk>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The Thundering Crusaders of the White Cockade! See more »


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Release Date:

5 August 1953 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Robert Louis Stevenson's The Master of Ballantrae  »

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)



Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


For the spectacular (but brief) scenes depicting the 1745 rebellion, this film used stock footage from the disastrously unsuccessful David Niven film, Bonnie Prince Charlie (1948), released only a few years earlier. Niven can actually be seen for a moment in one shot, albeit with his back to the camera. See more »


Another contributor to this page clearly misheard "larboard" as "starboard". See more »


Jamie Durie: [Seeing Burke being kissed by several girls] Burke, on your way.
Col. Francis Burke: Not again, Jamie. The dear helpless females want comforting. Where's the heart of you?
See more »


Version of The Master of Ballantrae (1975) See more »

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User Reviews

The Curse of the Duries
8 August 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

It is generally conceded today that Robert Louis Stevenson's two greatest works are the unfinished novel WEIR OF HERMISTON, and the completed THE MASTER OF BALLENTRAE. The latter story (published in 1889) is centered on a filial rivalry and hatred that lasts literally until the death of the two brothers involved.

Ballentrae is an estate in 18th Century Scotland, and the chief heir is James Durie. On the surface he is an easy going, fun loving type. When the 1745 Jacobite revolt under Bonnie Prince Charlie occurs, the Laird of Ballentrae is in a quandary. As a Highland Laird, he has to show he is a supporter of the ancient royal house of Scotland (the Stuarts) that Prince Charles represents. As a man who knows what the Hanovarians are like, he dare not fully come out as a supporter. So he hedges his bets. He has James go off to fight for the Stuart cause, but keeps his younger son Henry at home. Henry is not a fun loving type - he is a quiet, business-like type, who does not make friends easily.

So James goes off, and time passes. He is eventually reported as dead. Henry immediately becomes the heir to the estate. But suddenly James returns, and willingly brings troubles with him. The British government does have a price on his head, and if he is found on the estate the Duries may be imprisoned and their wealth taken away. Yet the old man insists that Henry do what is right for his older brother, and James keeps reminding Henry that by rights he is "Master of Ballentrae".

What happens, of course, is a disaster. To begin with, it slowly comes out that James may have declared for the Stuart cause, but he never showed up to fight for that cause. In short he acted like a loud mouth, attracting the anger of the government but then showed he was a coward. Not a total coward (where his own interest is involved) but one who won't put himself out for others when the chips are down. Secondly it turns out that his fun-loving activities are coming home to roost - he's had an affair, and left an illegitimate child. This, of course, means that the family has to support the bastard child.

Moreover, Henry has married the woman who would have married James under normal circumstances. He is now trying to unofficially regain her attention. This proves too much for Henry, and leads to one of the best passages in Stevenson's writings - the duel between the brothers in a darkened room. It ends with Henry believing he killed James. Would that he had.

James persecutes Henry and his wife for the rest of the novel (the father eventually dies of shame after learning how James was so cowardly at Culloden). The novel eventually goes to New York (then a colony) where both brothers meet up and meet their joint destiny.

This review of the story does not go into Henry's character flaws (he is a money grubber in the end). Stevenson never did make a better completed novel, even though there are elements of the improbable in it.

The story was made into this 1953 film, probably the last good movie Errol Flynn had the lead in that was a swashbuckler. The ambiguities and moral lapses of the two brothers are not used here (Henry is played by Anthony Steel, and he is far too young here for the role). James' opportunistic streak, and his non-appearance at Culloden is not in the film - he shows up at the battle. Indeed, he meets Colonel Francis Burke, an English Jacobite (Roger Livesey) who becomes his one ally and friend in the novel. In the film there will be other allies. Mervyn Johns plays the family servant MacKellar, who narrates the actual novel (but not here), and sees the flaws of both brothers all too clearly (although he ends up sympathizing with Henry). Lord Durrisdeer, the father of the brothers is Finlay Curray. The cast is generally quite good. But the excellence of the story is dropped and replaced into a tale of misunderstanding, and how a universal dislike of the English manages to keep the family together. Stevenson would have been amazed and hurt by what was done here.

I am willing to give the film an "8" for it's good points, mostly the performances (in particular Livesay's chemistry with Flynn). But I miss the tragic element of the novel. To properly appreciate the novel, if one can't read it, try to catch the television version made with Michael York and Richard Thomas and John Guilgud back in the 1980s. It too changed the end, but it stuck closer to the spirit of hopeless competition and hatred that Stevenson concocted in his masterpiece.

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