Thursday, 24 September 2020

Fortunes Of Captain Blood

Iron Pirate

Fortunes Of Captain Blood
USA 1950 Directed by Gordon Douglas
Columbia DVD Region 2

Okay, so this will probably turn out to be a fairly short review.

This is a film I watched with somebody on their birthday, sourced from a Spanish DVD but in the original English... well... American English at any rate. It’s the first of two movies made by Louis Hayward, top lining him as the title character of Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood novels. Now I can’t remember if I saw the much more famous Errol Flynn iteration of the character but, if I did, the last time I saw that would have been when I was less than six years old, I reckon and I have no real recollection of it nor, indeed, much knowledge of the character at all.

Now, as pirate films go, this is really not up there with the best of them. That being said, I do quite like Louis Hayward as an actor and it’s certainly not as bad as some modern pirate films I’ve seen in recent years.

Shot in black and white, Fortunes Of Captain Blood doesn’t really have much of a plot to it, in all honesty. That is to say, not a very complex one at least. Starting off with Captain Blood going to an island for supplies, some of his men are ambushed and held to be sold into slavery by an officer of the navy who has been commissioned to catch Captain Blood and rid the seas of him. Blood goes to the island where his six men are being held and, for the rest of the movie, negotiates his way... sometimes with a sword... to finding a way to free his men from the jail. This involves befriending a pretty woman played by Dona Drake, acquainting himself with a prison warder and getting him drunk and then getting into various bits of trouble and banter, all the while posing as a local fruit seller and falling in love with the richest lady on the island, Isabelita Sotomayor, played by Patricia Medina, an actress who has been in loads of things over the years and has quite striking eyes.

When his carefully laid plan goes a little wrong towards the end of the picture, the usual pirate movie things happen such as sword fighting, spiking the cannons and sacrificing his ship, The Avenger, to switch and take over the opposition’s vessel while they are busy trying to accept a surrender on the now empty vessel etc. And, although a lot of the film is more about delivering semi-sparkling, sometimes quite witty but sometimes quite hum-drum dialogue, the pacing is such that the film is livelier than it probably should be and Hayward is quite thoughtful in his acting, with the inner workings of his characters mind easily perceived on his features, even when he’s not wagging his lips at any enemy or ally who happens to be passing.

The man in the director’s chair on this one and, probably, the other reason why the pacing on a mainly 'talky' picture is a little lighter and fluffier than one might expect, is Gordon Douglas. Douglas, of course, directed many movies in his career, pretty much all of them notable for nobody really taking note of who the director was. However, this particular run of the mill director has some notable classics in his CV, as far as this audience member is concerned, such as the giant ant movie Them!, In Like Flint, Rio Conchos (reviewed by me here), Tony Rome and also its sequel, Lady In Cement. Once again, I couldn’t pick up on any directorial signatures from Gordon here but the whole thing is put together, mostly, competently with some good model work done (in places).

One thing I didn’t expect to see in a film from 1950 was blood... I mean, apart from the name of the title character, that is. This feels almost too early as even pre-code films didn’t feature that much blood in them and, although the inclusion of the red stuff... erm... black stuff in the case of this monochromatic motion picture... was totally new to films following the introduction of the Hayes code, I do find it strange that a film which has swordplay of the usual sort of a film from this time, where the hero can just run someone through with his blade and they will clasp their bloodless torso and fall over, has anything stronger. But there you have it, there are two instances here where actual fake blood is used. The first time is when Louis Hayward removes a musket ball from the wound of one of the characters and the ball and blood are clearly seen as he disposes of it and the other occurrence in the film is when somebody fires their pistol at one of Blood’s men and it misses its target but puts a bloody crease in the cheek of the intended victim. I really wasn’t expecting this but, thinking back now to my viewing a few years back of Rio Conchos by the same director, maybe it’s something I perhaps should have been on the look out for as these gory details seem almost unnecessary in context of the rest of the action and maybe this hints at a glimpse of directorial signature after all?

And that’s mostly all I have to say on the subject of Fortunes Of Captain Blood. I can’t tell you how well it measures up to the original 1936 novel, The Fortunes Of Captain Blood, but I can say that it’s well acted, less sluggish than one could expect from the somewhat tired script and it also has a surprisingly rousing score by Paul Sawtell,  someone who I usually associate with much less flamboyant scores than what he’s provided here. So, if you are a fan of either Louis Hayward or, indeed, one of Sabatini’s more well known characters, then you might want to give this one a look. It’s no The Crimson Pirate but it’s a nicely executed affair which makes for reasonable ‘afternoon viewing’. Maybe check this one out if you have nothing better on.

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