Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone square off.
Captain Blood was the first screen teaming of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. At the time they were both unknown contract players at Warner Bros. Studios; each with a couple of small movie roles under their belts. After the success of this picture they would both become bona fide movie stars and would eventually make seven more movies together.
This is a remake of a 1924 silent movie. And in fact some of the original silent action footage was recycled for this version. Director Michael Curtiz brought his usual enthusiastic vigor and the result is a fast paced action adventure movie about 17th Century pirates in the Caribbean. Flynn plays a British doctor falsely accused of treason against the crown. He is sent into slavery to the island of Jamaica where he meets a sadistic governor and his beautiful daughter (de Havilland). When a Spanish pirate ship attacks the town, Blood takes the opportunity to escape and sneak aboard the Spanish ship with his men. They easily overpower the few men left guarding the ship and soon he is sailing the Caribbean as the leader of a gang of pirates.
Along the way he meets up with a famous French pirate played by Basil Rathbone. Flynn and Rathbone have a rousing sword fight on a sandy beach, which is a prelude of sorts for The Adventures of Robin Hood three years later. Of course they fight over the girl. This movie was made in the 1930’s so you just know that Captain Blood with be honorably pardoned and that he will be the hero who gets the girl in the end. The fun is in watching him get there.
Captain Blood is, after all, an honorable pirate. In one scene he tells his gang his rules and also how much reward they get for an injury suffered in battle. This much for a lost eye, this much for a missing arm and so on. The relationship between Blood and his crew provides nearly all of the action and humor.
Like Clark Gable, James Cagney, Cary Grant and Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn had his stock character. He was the greatest swashbuckling action hero of his time. He was handsome almost to the point of being pretty but his masculine voice and devil-may-care attitude kept him from appearing effeminate. He and Olivia de Havilland were a perfect team. She brought out his romantic side and he challenged her spirit. She was more than just a simpering pretty face. She held her own and was never afraid to stand up to him when necessary.
If you can get beyond the lack of sophistication in the action sequences and special effects you will discover a rousing, rip-roaring action yarn that delivers on every cliché you have ever seen about the pirate genre. It’s no more or less than a good old-fashioned action movie with two great stars at the beginning of their careers. And with a remake of Captain Blood in the works for a 2011 release this is as good a time as any to check out this black & white classic.
Flynn and de Havilland
Captain Blood is a rousing, rip-roaring action yarn if you skip the first 45 minutes of this two hour movie. It takes far too long to get to any action. Blood is arrested and sent away. He meets and falls for Arabella. Sure, this introduces the characters and setting, but it should have been done in half that time. This is an adventure story. It needed a little giddy-up.
At 47 minutes, the action finally kicks in with Blood about to be whipped when the Spanish attack the town, "This is what I call a timely interruption! Though what'll come of it - the devil himself only knows!" With that line, Blood and company escape in the chaos and steal a Spanish ship, "Up that rigging, you monkeys! Aloft! There's no chains to hold you now. Break out those sails and watch them fill with the wind that's carrying us all to freedom!"
They become pirates with a montage of brief clips of ships being attacked behind a close up of Flynn and the word, "BLOOD!" plastered over the screen. Perhaps those are the reused scenes from the silent film version?
Patrick is correct about the chemistry between Flynn and de Havilland. He always looks at her like he is imagining her naked. She looks at him as if she is reading his mind and is only partially appalled. He needs her innocent image to balance his knowing smile. She needs his roguish exterior to balance her slightly prudish manners. They are better together, than apart.
Errol Flynn is Captain Blood!
Captain Blood is an old fashioned adventure story that never quite worked for me. Like Eric, I thought it took a long time to get going, but unlike him, I actually enjoyed the first part. I found it interesting and Blood an intriguing character. Most of England is busy fighting, but he wants to stay neutral, until he's eventually dragged into things when he's arrested.
While the adventure and action pick up once Blood becomes a pirate, I felt that the transition from Doctor to Pirate is abrupt and unbelievable. He goes from tending to men, to killing them quite easily and seems to have all the skills needed to be a pirate without any training needed. And while the movie does try to make him honorable, it's only able to do so because we never really get to see him do much pirating. Oh sure, there's a few montages, but surely he must have killed a lot of men whose only crime was serving on a ship that contained treasure that Blood wanted. It's hard to be a good guy and a pirate, but that's what this movie wants Blood to be.
Given that Basil Rathbone is third and prominently billed, I certainly expected his part to be larger. He can't be in more than 15 minutes of the whole movie, which is a pity because his role is one of the highlights. Now, he makes a believable pirate.
Patrick, you mention that Flynn is almost pretty, but not effeminate, but I actually thought there were several scenes where he comes across at least as effete and the scenes where he's caring to the Pilot's wounds seem almost tender. Sure he shares a nice chemistry with de Haviland, but he's at sea for a long time, who's to say who was swashing his buckle when she wasn't around.
And speaking of de Haviland, after watching her here and recently in The Strawberry Blonde, I'm starting to see her appeal. The only thing I'd really known her for before now was as Melanie in Gone with the Wind where she always rather annoyed me with her saintliness. I can see now that my annoyance had more to do with the character than the actress.
There are moments of high entertainment here and the cast is good, but overall I was never pulled into the story as much as I might have been. A little more blood in Captain Blood and I would have enjoyed it more. It's just all to light and family friendly for me.
Photos © Copyright Warner Bros. Pictures (1935)