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Hammer's foray into straight adventure stories occasionally resulted in
first-rate films. Of course as was the norm with most Hammer productions,
they were made on a shoestring budget. "The Devil Ship Pirates" certainly
doesn't show it. It is clear that every cent was squeezed from the budget
and shifted on-screen. The visuals in this film are incredible and run to
the inclusion of a 120 foot long Spanish Galleon (The story of this ill
fated large scale prop is an interesting tale all it's own), designed by
Bernard Robinson. The costuming is splendid and certainly does much to
the film a convincingly effective historical piece. A strong cast, headed
Mr. Lee and ably supported by the likes of Andrew Keir, Philip Latham,
Michael Ripper and Suzan Farmer, gives their all to achieve what is
one of Hammer's best forays into the pirate movie sub-genre. Michael
in particular is, as always, a joy to watch.
The film begins with the defeat of the Spanish Armada. The Spanish ship Diablo is badly damaged and her Captain, a rakish privateer by the name of Robeles, takes the ship into the English coast to make covert repairs. While there, a little plundering is in order and the crew of the ship occupy a small isolated village by duping the villagers into believing that the Spanish won and that they are there as representatives of Spain. A resistance movement is formed and the usual results: swordplay, flogging, and a good deal of running around.
The plot is fairly standard stuff, but very well told and demonstrates a bit more depth than typical swashbucklers. The staunch British defend their island from invading foreigners. Thematically, it has as much in common with "The Adventures of Robin Hood" as it does with "The Eagle has Landed". Normans, Germans or as in this case, Spanish privateers, the mentality is the same. As Winston Churchill put it: "We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender." Devil Ship Pirates would have made a splendid WWII era morale booster with its rather blatant message. An interesting touch that adds depth and separates this film from the usual pirate fair. By including Barry Warren's sympathetic and honorable Spaniard character, the film narrowly avoids stereotyping the Spanish. A token effort, but one that raises the tone somewhat.
Christopher Lee excels in the role of the nasty Captain Robeles. He looks magnificent in the red uniform and moves with incredible authority at all times. There are a good number of fencing sequences that are carried off with remarkable skill and dexterity; a real showcase of Mr. Lee's ability. The final sequences aboard the Diablo are simply stunning. This is one pirate flick that shouldn't be missed...and that's an order, Mister!
As I said in my review for THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (1962), this is a
virtual retread of the script for that film (just as THE TERROR OF THE
TONGS  had reworked the central premise of THE STRANGLERS OF
BOMBAY  all four titles, incidentally, comprise Columbia's
recent "Icons Of Adventure" DVD set)
or, perhaps, it was closer to what
Jimmy Sangster had originally envisaged before John Gilling got to work
In any case, the two pirate films don't have just the plot in common but many of the names associated with BLOOD RIVER resume their duties on DEVIL-SHIP, including composer Gary Hughes as well as several Hammer stalwarts (production designer Bernard Robinson, editor James Needs, not to mention co-stars Christopher Lee, Andrew Keir and Michael Ripper, all of whose characters are practically identical!). This doesn't mean that the film is a cheap rip-off of the earlier effort: it can stand well enough on its own merits, and there are even those who prefer DEVIL-SHIP to BLOOD RIVER; as ever, the company managed to give the whole a semblance of expensive production values when it was typically done on a low-budget.
The rest of the cast is generally effective, if not quite as satisfactory as that of BLOOD RIVER even so, characterization is more fleshed-out this time around: John Cairney does alright by the hero (who, unusually, is a cripple); Suzan Farmer is a lovely heroine (though she gets little to do but, then, neither did Marla Landi and in her case, it's Lee who leers at the girl rather than his underlings); Duncan Lamont is imposing as Lee's right-hand man, but his role never really amounts to much; Keir and Ripper were both better served by each's first stab at their respective roles (Ripper, in particular, is here merely to supply the obligatory comic relief). However, we do get a couple of interesting 'new' characters: Farmer's aristocratic father (Ernest Clark) is a sycophant, while Barry Warren a Spaniard officer detailed with an outfit of pirates-turned-soldiers is an outsider amidst their ranks and, on several occasions, lends a helping hand to the locals in order to defeat them! By the way, the narrative deals with the aftermath of the Spanish Armada's defeat by the British in the late 16th century; a stray vessel, the "Diablo" (hence the film's title), decides to rest furtively on British soil to effect the necessary repairs however, when they're discovered, the Captain (Lee, of course) decides to risk passing themselves off as conquerors and, in no time at all, has the run of the village!
The groveling Clark is all-too-willing in this respect (to the point of inviting Lee into his own house but, on objecting to the latter's unsavory attentions towards his daughter, is summarily executed!), while Keir offers opposition and pays the price for this affront with his life. His son, Cairney, naturally seeks revenge which he attains, with Warren's help, by sabotaging the ship (Lee having ordered the artisans among the locals to carry out the required maintenance). Incidentally, unlike THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER, this does feature reasonable large-scale action with a sea-battle at the very start and a literally explosive climax. The ultimate assessment, then, is that THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES is a pretty good adventure flick though, when it comes to director Sharp's Hammer output, I still feel he did his best work on the far more typical THE KISS OF THE VAMPIRE (1963) which, if you ask me, is a genuine minor classic of Gothic Horror.
July 1588 . In the English channel the British fleet has been battling
for two days against the mighty Spanish armada . Badly damaged with
half their crews killed , the ships of Spain battle their way on up the
channel . And the thickest part of the fighting is one of the smallest
Spanish ships , the licensed privateer 'Diablo' . As the damaged
privateer deserts the Spanish Armada and makes land for repairs near a
village on the British coast , terrorizing the local inhabitants . They
have to put it near from a village on the coast for repairs . The place
is small and isolated and the Spanish military convince the villagers
that the British fleet has been defeated and that they are now their
conquerors . The hot-blooded as well as shipwrecked crew of cut-throats
is led by Captain Robeles (Christopher Lee) .
Entertaining pirate movie , plenty of action , thrills , exciting sword-play , luxurious costumes , athletic feats , enjoyable score ; all meld together under Don Sharp's right direction . Combination of spectacular ships battle , sword-play and full of villainy , betrayal , swashbuckling and heroism . Hammer Production built a real Spanish pirate ship for the film planning to reuse it on other flicks . The full-sized galleon was built in some sand pits on a steel structure under the water ; although warned not to have too many people on board at once, one day the tea boat was lifted onto a platform level with the water with too many people getting their tea . The ship capsized throwing most of the cast and crew in the water , thankfully no one was drowned or seriously hurt . In the film appears Hammer ordinary actors such as Andrew Keir , Duncan Lamont , Susan Farmer , Philip Latham , Michael Ripper and , of course , the great Christopher Lee . Interesting script by screenwriter Jimmy Sangster , Hammer's usual , he remarked that this movie's basic premise is similar to that of "The Desperate Hours" in which a gang of criminals holds a family hostage . Well produced by Anthony Nelson Keys at Bray studios , England , with nice production design by Bernard Robinson , in fact "village square" set was also used , only slightly altered , in "The Crimson Blade" . Evocative as well as thrilling musical score by Gary Hughes . Colorful cinematography in Hammer style by Michael Reed .
The motion picture was professionally directed by Don Sharp , it premiered in the United States before debuting in Britain and was double-billed with "The Invincible Seven" . In the mid-1960s Sharp was hired by horror specialist Hammer Films and resulted out some well-received thrillers , and horror movies including Kiss of the vampire (1963) , his first for Hammer , Witchcraft (1964) and The curse of the fly (1965) . Don directed Christopher Lee six times , he was his fetish actor . Don worked on a few films as second-unit director , most notably Those magnificent men and the flying machines (1965) and Puppet on a chain (1965) before returning to filmmaking again , and turned out a string of thrillers as The thirty nine steps (1979) , Bear Island (1984) , horror films as Dark places (1974) , Secrets of the phantom caverns (1985) , Guardian of abyss (1988) and comedies . Towards the end of his career he worked in television on mini-series .
Or The Eagle Has Landed...
Out of Hammer Film Productions, The Devil-Ship Pirates is directed by Don Sharp and written by Jimmy Sangster. Filmed in Eastman Colour and Megascope, it stars Christopher Lee, John Cairney, Barry Warren, Suzanne Farmer, Natasha Pyne, Andrew Keir, Philip Latham and Michael Ripper. Music is by Gary Hughes and cinematography by Michael Reed.
July 1588. In the English Channel the British Fleet has been battling for two days against the mighty Spanish Armada.....
Badly damaged, with half their crews killed, the ships of Spain battle their way up the Channel. And in the thickest part of the fighting is one of the smallest Spanish ships the licensed privateer Diablo.
OK, so it's practically a landlocked pirate film, with the water antics confined to the running a ground of the Diablo ship up some English estuary. Yet this should not detract from the good old swashbuckling fun available in this Hammer pirate adventure. Premise basically sees Christopher Lee's band of pirates take control of a remote English village by the sea, they achieve this by telling them that Spain has triumphed in the war and Blighty is under Spanish rule. With most of the village men out fighting the war, there are only a few English guys around and the village is mostly populated by ladies. Some of the village citizens are far from enamoured with the Spaniards being in control, others are a bit more compliant. Something's going to give if the truth will out.
With sets used from The Scarlet Blade the previous year, production value is hardly high. But as is often the case with Hammer, you can't really tell as the film is vibrant in colour and costuming. Great cast assembled as well. Lee hardly stretches himself but is most enjoyable to watch swishing a blade and generally being a miserable tyrant. Around Lee are a roll call of stoic Hammer performers, with Ripper (getting a meatier role than usual), Keir, Cairney, Warren and Farmer leaving telling marks. The script slips in some cynicism via a couple of weasel village elders, and there's class distinction in here as well, while much heroic interest is garnered by having Cairney's resistance leader as being lame in one arm on account of a previous scuffle with the Spanish. A true hero!
Much of the budget went on the construction of The Diablo ship. It was a ship that went down in Hammer folklore as a pain in the derrière. Such was the bad craftsmanship it often caused accidents, while it also capsized and cost the production a number of cameras and equipment. For the finale in the film the ship is seen ablaze, that's real, they gladly burnt it! But it's a great prop and is well used by Sharp. The director also handles his action sequences well enough, with three solid sword fights of note, one of which is played out in and around a marshy bog. But any expectation of Lee and co being Tyrone Power like will only lead to disappointment. Elsewhere, Reed's Eastman Colour photography is mostly rich and vibrant, though a bit lifeless around the water scenes and Hughes scores it plainly with standard Hammer strains.
It has many flaws, obviously for a low budgeted Hammer yarn; for one thing the Spanish invaders are more British than the villagers! But this is still very good genre film making, not a dull moment to be had in what is a classic Sunday afternoon adventure. 7/10
One of Hammer Studios forays away from the horror genre, the film still
the unmistakable Hammer stamp much in evidence.
Story concerns a fighting ship from the Spanish Armada, which after the defeat takes refuge on a remote stretch of English coastline for repairs. The crew, headed by Christopher Lee, convince the locals that the Spanish were victorious and blockade their village.
Many aspects of Hammers historical horror films are present - the nervous, subdued villagers, the local landowner who gives in to the outside forces, the buxom village wench to be plundered, the young headstrong villager who organises resistance etc. With Lee playing the evil force, the films middle is similar in tone to many a Hammer Dracula film - the pirate ship taking the place of the usual castle, but the effect and implications it has are the same.
As a swashbuckler, 'The Devil-Ship Pirates' doesn't really offer anything of lasting interest - for Hammer fans though there is much to enjoy, with production values above average, and a storyline which satisfies all requirements.
Nice to see Michael Ripper in a surprisingly large role - he must have as many lines in this as every other Hammer film he was in put together.
Don Sharp directed this pirate film set in 1588, where a pirate ship led by Captain Robeles(played by Christopher Lee) is fighting for the Spanish Armada against the British. Their ship is badly damaged, and must go into dock for necessary repairs before they are captured. Their only chance is to convince an isolated nearby English village that in fact, the Spanish have won the battle(and not the other way around) which they manage to do at first, but after awhile, the village men become suspicious, and begin a campaign of sabotage and resistance, in the hope that they are in fact right... Good adventure yarn with interesting premise, fine acting, and well-staged action scenes. One of the best non-horrors from Hammer studios.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
1588. A severely damaged Spanish pirate ship is forced to pull into a small isolated village on the British coast for repairs. The pirates led by the stern, fearsome, and ruthless Captain Robeles (a terrific performance by Christopher Lee) convince the villagers that they have won the war and are their rightful masters. Director Don Sharp, working from a tight and compelling script by Jimmy Sangster, does a sound job with the engrossing story: the steady pace never falters, there's a vivid and credible evocation of the period, the lively sword fights are staged with real skill and brio, the pirates are a memorably scruffy and scurvy bunch, the strong central theme about bravery and cowardice adds extra substance to the narrative, and the thrilling fiery conclusion delivers the exciting goods. Moreover, further kudos are in order for the fine acting from a bang-up cast, with especially stand-out turns by Barry Warren as the firm and no-nonsense Don Manuel Ridrigeuz de Savilla, John Cairney as the bitter and insolent Harry, Suzan Farmer as the sweet Angela Smeeton, Michael Ripper as the jolly Pepe, Duncan Lamont as the tough and loyal the Bosun, Ernest Clark as the wimpy and sycophantic Sir Basil Smeeton, Natasha Pyne as the fragile Jane, and Andrew Keir as the pragmatic Tom. Michael Reed's vibrant widescreen cinematography gives the picture a pleasingly handsome look. Gary Hughes' spirited score likewise does the zesty trick. A very worthwhile and enjoyable movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A handsome but unremarkable pirate flick from the Hammer folks, The
Devil-Ship Pirates is a fairly agreeable way to while away a rainy
afternoon. It was also the first film in which Christopher Lee received
top billing, so in some ways it has a kind of nostalgic importance in a
study of his remarkable career. The story is quite intriguing, with a
reasonably novel plot and some engaging characters, and director Don
Sharp does a good job in putting most of the film's modest budget up
there on the screen. I can't imagine anyone in the world claiming that
this is their all-time favourite film, but I would be equally taken
aback if someone were to call it the worst film ever made. It's just a
solid, middle-of-the-road swashbuckler that's perfectly easy to watch
and perfectly easy to forget.
In 1588, the English defeat the Spanish Armada. A Spanish ship called the Diablo (Spanish for "devil", hence the title) is severely crippled in this unsuccessful invasion of the British Isles. The captain, a hissable villain named Robeles (Christopher Lee), puts his ship in for repairs in a lonely marshland area of South West England. Nearby is an isolated village, so detached from the rest of humanity that news is slow to reach the place. Robeles and his crew come up with the ingenious plan of seizing control of the village and hoodwinking the villagers into believing that the Armada has successfully invaded England. Initially the villagers have no cause to suspect the ruse, so they disconsolately give in to the Spanish demands. The Spaniards blockade the village to prevent the truth of the Armada's defeat from getting in while they ready their ship for the journey home, but gradually the villagers grow in pluck and soon a rebellion is on the cards, led by young aggressor Harry (John Cairney).
The film is nicely photographed by Michael Reed, who manages to get across a stamp of quality that belies the film's meagre budget. Lee is very good as the sinister Spanish captain, looking truly intimidating in his costumes and bringing the same Dracula-like aura to the proceedings that he brought to his role in the Bram Stoker adaptations. The supporting cast of British stalwarts (how good is it to see Michael Ripper in such a prominent role??) provide engaging subsidiary characters that blend well with Lee's dominant presence. Like I've already said, the film is not particularly memorable or resonant, but that was never its aim anyway. This one is designed purely as entertainment - a simple blood-and-thunder pirate flick that can be enjoyed without pretensions - so within the context of its own aims it is a decent little film. You could do a lot worse.
Christopher Lee's performance as the stern captain keeps "The
Devil-Ship Pirates" from being a typical pirate flick. I also thought
that Suzan Farmer was a real hottie in this movie, as she also was in
"Die, Monster, Die!" True, this wasn't the best role of any of the cast
members, but I enjoyed it.
Whenever I watch old movies set in centuries past, I notice that they characters look well groomed. I doubt that anyone looked that tidy in 1588. Of course, no one expects action movies to be realistic. Along with the scenes of the captain discussing how to keep the town under control, there's some drinking and swordfights to keep things going.
Pretty fun movie.
PS: The long-term result of the war involving the Spanish Armada was that the British colonization of the Americas got delayed twenty years: when they returned to the Roanoke colony in 1590, the colony had vanished, and its fate remains a mystery to this day.
Beautiful Eastmancolor 2.35:1 widescreen production with lots of
action. "The Devil-Ship Pirates" is a well-paced and directed Hammer
film with a decent budget and fine acting, including Sir Christopher
Lee (then just plain Mr. Lee) convincingly mean and cruel as a pirate
captain. One of Lee's better acting jobs in my opinion as he swashes
and buckles (including some good sword fights) in an energetic role.
English vs. Spaniards and pirates at the time of the Armada, while not much at sea there is plenty of action. Will hold your attention and moves at a brisk pace, therefore everyone can watch and everyone will be entertained.
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