A young Irish doctor is exiled as a slave to Jamaica where he captures a Spanish galleon and becomes the most feared pirate of the Caribbean.A young Irish doctor is exiled as a slave to Jamaica where he captures a Spanish galleon and becomes the most feared pirate of the Caribbean.A young Irish doctor is exiled as a slave to Jamaica where he captures a Spanish galleon and becomes the most feared pirate of the Caribbean.
Flynn is brash and cocky. (He didn't change much until he began to physically deteriorate later in life.) He projects his emotions the way a traffic light projects directions, with utter simplicity. There's never a moment when we doubt we know what he's thinking. He looks extremely handsome too (he was 26) without being in the least effete.
Olivia De Havilland is his perfect counterpart. She was never a raving beauty, but she's extremely feminine. She has a wide face with huge eyes, a dazzling smile, and a tinkling laugh. Where Flynn is adventurous she is cautious, thoughtful, often puzzled about her loyalties, and she holds things back, while Flynn shouts things out.
The rest of the cast is filled with familiar faces from the 30s -- J. Carol Naish, Guy Kibbee, Lionel Atwill -- and they do their jobs well.
It's a sound-stage bound movie with a lot of model work, some of it clumsy but still effective. A neatly done set is a tribute to the production designer. The banana plants grow neatly in picturesque places and the papier-mache palms beat the real thing. Natural locations are often cluttered with vegetation, but these jungles and beaches are flawless. They don't look like real locations. They look like what you wish real locations looked like.
This is Erich Wolfgang Korngold's first score for a movie. (He'd previously adapted Mendelsohn for an earlier one.) It's often claimed that Hollywood composers were child prodigies but in Korngold's case it's not an exaggeration. He was studying piano and music theory at five, conducted his own cantata (for Gustav Mahler) at nine, and had his first work published at thirteen. He was a prolific composer too -- violin concertos, two operas -- by the time he was in his mid-thirties. Max Reinhardt sent him to Hollywood to write a few scores, of which this was one. It was thrown into his lap and he had to write it almost overnight. There was simply not enough time to do it all, so he stole a little from Liszt, the scene in which the Spanish pirates are looting the town. He returned to Europe to continue his career but, well, the continent by that time was no place for a guy named Korngold, genius or not. So he returned to Hollywood until after the war when he was able to go back to Europe and renew his composing.
I don't mean to take up too much space dealing with Korngold, but the fact is that Flynn's early movies would just not be the same with anyone else. Korngold wrote music the way Flynn acted -- full of dash and bombast -- and some of it was stunningly lyrical. (The simple love song in "The Sea Hawk" has a melodic progression that defies prediction.) It's hardly worth noting that the name of this talented musician has been parodied elsewhere as "Wolfgang von Korngold" by another reviewer, Howydymax, whose penetrating insights into film fare I have usually admired and sometimes stolen from. Curtiz's direction had the same slam-bang quality as the composer's. Absolutely nothing artsy about it, a straightforward story.
There are some weaknesses in the script. When I first saw it, finally, on TV, I'd been waiting for a chance for years and was frustrated because there didn't seem to be enough action. One longish scene of sailing ships pounding each other to pieces, and one fencing match between Basil Rathbone and Flynn -- too brief for my taste. Actually, at the time Flynn wasn't comfortable with swordplay and it shows. Rathbone, on the other hand, took up the sport seriously and was evidently a pretty accomplished fencer. I've seen it again recently and enjoyed it much more, a cartoon of a movie, full of intrigue, romance, and action.
Well worth watching.
- Apr 6, 2005