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During the War of 1812 against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland: General Andrew Jackson has only 1,200 men left to defend New Orleans when he learns that a British fleet will arrive with 60 ships and 16,000 men to take the city. In this situation an island near the city becomes strategically important to both parties, but it's inhabited by the last big buccaneer: Jean Lafitte. Although Lafitte never attacks American ships, the governor hates him for selling merchandise without taxes - and is loved by the citizens for the same reason. When the big fight gets nearer, Lafitte is drawn between the fronts. His heart belongs to America, but his people urge him to join the party that's more likely to win. Written by
Tom Zoerner <Tom.Zoerner@informatik.uni-erlangen.de>
Widening the Screen, for the Battle of New Orleans
This was the last film that Cecil B. DeMille had anything to do with. He originally planned to direct this remake of his 1938 film The Buccaneer, but ill health prevented him from doing so. So apart from a brief prologue and a production credit saying the film was presented by him, DeMille left the producing to good friend Henry Wilcoxon and the directing to his son-in-law Anthony Quinn.
This version has the added attractions of great technicolor photography and Paramount's new wide screen Vistavision process. I saw in the theater when I was 11 years old and it is quite an eyeful.
Yul Brynner makes as dashing a Jean Lafitte as Fredric March did in the 1938 film. Charlton Heston repeats his Andrew Jackson role from The President's Lady which he made earlier in the Fifties. Heston though was not satisfied because he realized that he was made up to look like the Andrew Jackson we know from the double sawbuck when he was in the White House. At New Orleans he was a bit younger. But like Moses and the circus boss from The Greatest Show on Earth, you follow him to Hades and back.
The best role in the film for me though was Charles Boyer as Dominic You, Lafitte's cynical second in command. A former artillery officer in Napoleon's army, he left there and took up piracy out of disillusionment with how the French Revolution turned out. Boyer has some good and wise lines in his counsel to Lafitte even if he's drunk while delivering some of them.
After The Ten Commandments, DeMille had plans to make a film about Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts and was in negotiations with David Niven to play Baden-Powell. He got sidetracked with this film and then he died in early 1959. Of course the Boy Scout film never did get made by anyone.
Although DeMille eliminated one element of the plot from 1938 the traitorous Senator played by Ian Keith the rest of the film is pretty much the same. This is hardly the real story of Jean Lafitte. When not on the action, the film does drag in spots. Maybe that's why Anthony Quinn never directed another film.
This version of The Buccaneer had one additional thing going for it. Country singer Johnny Horton had a mega hit record of The Battle of New Orleans at the same time the film came out. Both must have fed off each other in profit making. I well remember you couldn't go a day without hearing The Battle of New Orleans playing some time on the radio.
It's not history, it's DeMille at his gaudiest.
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