(Review originally written at 6 October 2006)

What a great American main lead debut this movie was for Errol Flynn. This movie set the standards for many swashbuckling movies to follow, of which most also starred Errol Flynn in the main lead. In that regard this movie is already a classic and historical important movie. What makes the movie even more interesting is the fact that this is the first movie that stars Olivia de Havilland as Flynn's love interest and this is also the first movie in which Flynn crosses his sword with Basil Rathbone. The three of them would later appear in many more swashbuckler movies, most also directed by Michael Curtiz.

What this movie does very well is telling its story. There are really quite a lot of characters and events in this movie but ever character and event is relevant and well developed and brought to the screen. Especially the characters are what makes this movie such a great and special one. Some of the characters are not introduced halve way through the movie, such as the Basil Rathbone but still yet they manage to develop the characters well and let them play an important and relevant part in the movie, as if they have been in it the whole time. But also the story is very good. It's adventurous, has a love-story in it and features some spectacular action sequences. What more could you wish from a swashbuckler? A swashbuckling Erich Wolfgang Korngold musical score maybe? Well guess what...that is present as well!

There are certainly parallels between this movie and the now other popular 'Pirates of the Caribbean' pirate movies. Both stories are set in Port Royal, the lesser of stand main character falls in love with a lady of stand and both stories feature the pirate town of Tortuga in it. There are countless more and less notable parallels between both movies. It's nice and interesting to see how new pirate movies can still be linked to an movie made over 70 years ago. It's an indication how bar raising and important this picture has been to later genre movies.

Of course by todays standards the story, the characters and events seem terribly outdated and 'friendly'. Like in every swashbuckler has always been the case; the good guys are extremely good and the bad guys are extremely bad. It's as simple as that. You can perhaps call it simple or naive. Even when they choose the pirate life, the characters still remain perfectly well mannered men with rules to share everything and not to harm or capture any woman. It's perhaps a reason why not just everybody will be able to enjoy or like to watch this movie. Myabe you have to be a bit familiar with the genre and the time period of movie making to follow enjoy and appreciate this movie for what it is.

Granted that the story is not perfect. For instance it remains a vague mystery to my why every man follows Peter Blood, who didn't had any fighting experience and didn't fought during the rebellion like his fellow country men and fellow sentenced slaves. Without question they make them their captain and follow his rules. And how exactly did Captain Blood became such a legendary pirate, while all he did was being an honest and friendly, instead of feared and powerful. All things that are simple not explained in the movie. Yet Errol Flynn's charismatic performance helps you to forget all these story problems and just makes you simply enjoy this movie.

It's really thanks to Flynn's charismatic, witty, athletic, gentleman like performance that makes his character, as well as the story work out. Also his good and heroic looks certainly helps him being convincing in his role but it also really is his acting that is more than great. His style of acting seemed to be ahead of its time. Also the chemistry between him and Olivia de Havilland is already notable in this first movie of them together. It also certainly helps the movie. I mostly knew Lionel Atwill from countless Frankenstein movies from the '30's and '40's, so it was refreshing to see him a cruel ruthless villainous role for a change, which suited him well. He delivers a fine and at times also comical performance. Basil Rathbone's role is perhaps not as big as you would expect but his presence is impressive and memorable enough.

The movie is really impressive and big looking. The sets and costumes are all very realistic looking as well as the miniature battle sequences, that are obvious fake but at the same time highly convincing and impressive looking. Most of the action sequences in the movie look fake, especially of course by todays standards but in '30's perspective they are extremely spectacular and well filmed and edited into the movie. The cinematography by multiple Oscar winners and nominees Ernest Haller and Hal Mohr as a times also truly excellent and they provide the movie with some really 'experimental' and beautiful shot sequences. The movie also uses some early 'montage' sequences which was I think unique for its period(?) and it works highly effective as well for the movie and its story flow. This movie could had easily turned into a three hour lasting mammoth production but it now instead is an highly entertaining and spectacular 2 hour production that is an adventure to watch.

Not the greatest Flynn swashbuckler but a darn fine first one for him, that set the standards for later genre movies.


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About Frank Veenstra

Watches movies...writes about them...and that's it for now.
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