Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Captain Blood (1935) * * *

Set in England in 1685, open rebellion has greeted the ascension of the unpopular King James II to the throne. Irish Dr. Peter Blood is summoned in the night to attend to the wounds of a rebel fighter who had participated in the Monmouth Rebellion. A war veteran and former seaman in the Dutch navy, Dr. Blood has "had adventure enough in six years to last me six lives" and prefers practicing medicine to fighting. Swept up by the authorities, Blood is imprisoned for three months before being found guilty of treason. He asserts his innocence, maintaining that his duty was to the man’s wounds, not his politics. "Your sacred duty, rogue, is to your king!" growls the judge, who condemns him to hang. Blood and his fellow prisoners are spared when the King realizes he can turn a profit selling them as slaves. They are sentenced to deportation and slavery in the Caribbean.

Prosecutor: Peter Blood... guilty or not guilty?
Dr. Blood: It's entirely innocent, I am!
Clerk of the court: Take the stand and face his Lordship.
(Peter Blood does so)
Clerk of the court: Are you guilty or not guilty? You must use the right words.
Dr. Blood: Words is it? Oh. Not guilty. And speaking of words, I'd like to say a few about the injustice of keeping an innocent man locked up for three months in such filth and heat and ill-feeding... that my chief regret is I didn't try to pull down the filthy fellow that sits on the throne!

Shipped to Port Royal, Jamaica for sale, Dr. Blood turns his sharp tongue on brutal plantation owner and military commander Colonel Bishop (Lionel Atwill). At an auction Blood refuses to open his mouth and allow Bishop to examine his teeth like a horse, so the colonel bypasses him, thereby condemning Blood to the island's worst possible place of employment, the sulfur mines. But his regal niece Arabella (Olivia de Havilland) likes what she sees and bids for him herself. She purchases him, attracted by his rebellious nature. He amuses himself with insults to Arabella, and plans an escape to seek vengeance.

Blood toils with his friends under the lash on Bishop's plantation until Arabella arranges a more comfortable assignment for him attending to Governor Steed (George Hassell). He is taken off work detail and put to use doctoring the gouty foot of Port Royal’s governor. Blood tells Arabella, "This is interesting. I've had men tell me they had reasons for admiring me. And some few, it came, had reasons for loving me. But for a man to store up reasons for resenting me... How refreshing!" When Blood tries to kiss her, he is soundly slapped and returns his attentions to his escape plans.

(Arabella sees Blood leaving the Governor's house after treating him for gout)
Arabella: Oh, forgive me for not recognizing you, Dr. Blood. You're so changed... and for the better. You don't sound very grateful, Dr. Blood.
Dr. Blood: Do you suppose I'd be grateful for an easy life, when my friends are treated like animals? Faith, it's they deserve your favors, not I. They're all honest rebels. I was snoring in my bed while they were trying to free England from an unclean tyrant.
Arabella: I believe you're talking treason.
Dr. Blood: I hope I'm not obscure. It seems that you're continually doing me favors. Faith, I don't know why.
Arabella: Neither do I. Yes I do. It's because you're so very grateful and always thank me so prettily.
Dr. Blood: Sure now, you don't blame me for resenting you and your favors.
Arabella: This is interesting. I've had men tell me they had reasons for admiring me... and some few have even laid claims to reasons for loving me. But for a man to store up reasons for resenting me... how refreshing! You must tell me a few of them.
Dr. Blood: First, is reason enough: you bought me. I've had no lack of experiences in my time; but to be bought and sold was a new one. I was in no mood to thank my purchaser.
Arabella: That I can understand. Go on.
Dr. Blood: I've resented you because your name's Bishop. My thoughts have lumped you with your uncle. How was I to know, be dad, that a devil could have... that a devil could have an angel for a niece.
Arabella: From a resentful man that is a pretty fair compliment.
Dr. Blood: Miss Bishop, it's difficult for an Irishman to apologize; but I hope you can forgive me for having thought badly of you.
Arabella: I will if you tell me how you think of me now.
Dr. Blood: How I think of you now? I think of you... I think of you as the woman who owns me--her slave. But I think the man is lucky who can count you his friend.
Arabella: I think you know you can.
(she extends her hand for him to shake, he kisses her, she is startled, pulls away and slaps him)
Dr. Blood: Your slave is grateful for all marks of favor.
Arabella: When you forget your slavery and go so far...
Dr. Blood: Now there you're mistaken. However far this slave may go, he won't forget. That's a characteristic that the Irish have in common with the elephants.

Unexpectedly, a Spanish galleon attacks the town. During the raid, Dr. Blood and his fellow slaves escape, manage to board and overtake the Spanish ship, guarded only by a few drunken pirates. As the rest of the Spanish crew attempts to come to their aid, Blood and his men attack--"Give 'em a taste of their own iron!"--thereby rescuing Port Royal from the remaining Spaniards. Colonel Bishop comes aboard to congratulate them and suggests the king might reduce their sentences on account of their heroism. Rather than hang him for his haughty insolence, Blood and his men toss him overboard. "Colonel Bishop has a kind heart... but what kind I'd hate to say," Henry Hagthorpe (Guy Kibbee) declares. Blood is torn between his freedom, and his love for Arabella, but chooses to sail to his freedom and begin a life of piracy. When the old governor is unable to contain the pirate menace, Colonel Bishop is promoted to his post.

Dr. Blood: (dictating) If a man conceal any treasure captured or fail to place it in the general fund, he shall be marooned. Set ashore on a deserted isle, and there left with a bottle of water, a loaf of bread and a pistol with one load. If a man shall be drunk on duty he shall recieve the same fate. And if a man shall molest a woman captive against her will... he, too, shall receive the same punishment. These Articles entered into this 20th day of June, in the year 1687. (having finished dictating, he addresses the crew) Now, men, you've heard the Agreement. It's the world against us and us against the world!
Rev. Uriah Ogle: "His hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him." Genesis, 16th chapter, 12th verse.
Dr. Blood: Those of you in favor of these Articles raise your right hands and say, "Aye!"
(the whole crew does so)

Forging the men into a crew, Peter becomes Captain Blood, a menace on the high seas. After pillaging treasure, he settles on the island of Tortuga, "Where easy money consorted with easy virtue." He accepts an ill-advised partnership with a hard-fighting, hard-gaming French rascal, Captain Levasseur (Basil Rathbone). When Arabella and a royal emissary, Lord Willoughby (Henry Stephenson), are captured for ransom by Levasseur, Blood purchases them himself with a handful of pearls, relishing the opportunity to turn the tables on his former owner. "I don't wish to be bought by you," Arabella protests. "As a lady once said to a slave, You are hardly in a position to have anything to say about it," Blood retorts. Levasseur is as displeased with the transaction as Arabell and the men go from partners to enemies. Blood's feelings are betrayed, he challenges Levasseur, and in the ensuing duel the Frenchman is killed.

Arabella and Lord Willoughby are taken to Port Royal. As they approach the port, they see two French warships attacking the colony. Bishop and his men are nowhere to be found because Bishop has deserted his post in his single-minded hunt for Blood. Willoughby pleads with Blood to save the colony, but the captain and his crew refuse to fight for the King of England. However, when Willoughby reveals that James II has been deposed in the Glorious Revolution and that he was sent by the new king, William of Orange, to offer pardons, emancipation, and a commission with the Royal Navy to Blood and his men, they joyfully change their minds at this good news.

Dr. Blood: Men, I've just heard a startling piece of news--King James is kicked out of England and good King William reigns in his stead. (the crew cheer) For me this changes the shape of the world. For you who were slaves with me, it means that we're no longer slaves, that we once more have a home and a country. For you who are English it means a chance to fight for your native land... for I now propose to sail into Port Royal and take it from the French! Those of you who are not English will have to be content with fighting for Captain Blood, and the loot you'll find on the French ships. Are you willing to fight, men? (the crew all cheer "Aye")

Blood and his crew approach the harbor disguised under French colors and save the colony in a pitched battle. As a reward, Blood is appointed the new governor of the colony and has the pleasure to deal with his hostile predecessor, now in serious trouble for dereliction of duty, and finally wins the hand of Arabella.

Filmed in three months during the late summer of 1935, CAPTAIN BLOOD is the quintessential swashbuckler. Warner Brothers took a chance on 25 year-old Tasmanian-born bit player Flynn and 18 year-old Olivia de Havilland, a contract performer who had yet to be cast as a leading lady. Flynn shot to overnight international movie stardom with a speed almost unprecedented in Hollywood history. CAPTAIN BLOOD was an enormous success with critics and audiences, ranking among the top 25 money-makers of the year. The trailers for the film describe him as "Handsome! Dashing!". Errol Flynn plays an educated urbane man, a righteous thinking man, and we witness how injustice and imprisonment drive him to piracy. The movie also brought de Havilland important exposure, and though she did not become an overnight superstar like Flynn, the "Charming... Talented" de Havilland proved herself a worthy female counterpart to Flynn's heroic bravura. Olivia de Havilland is positively radiant and the chemistry with Flynn leaps off the screen. It's a fantastic pirate movie, with action, adventure, character development, and great character actors as well. It was the first of 8 films co-starring de Havilland and Flynn, and in 1938 the two would be re-united with Basil Rathbone in THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD.

However, Flynn and de Havilland did not make the film a success on their own. Their contentious romantic scenes are noteworthy and the chemistry between them is clear from the start, yet CAPTAIN BLOOD's real claim to fame is as an adventure film. It is without question the greatest pirate movie ever made. Making use of both miniatures and footage from the 1924 silent swashbuckler THE SEA HAWK, the effects created by photographers Ernest Haller, Hal Mohr and Fred Jackman, in combination with the brisk pacing of director Michael Curtiz, screenwriter Casey Robinson's literate dialogue, and composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold's Oscar-nominated score, results in an exciting, intelligent film that received an Academy Award nomination as Best Picture of the year, though it lost to MGM's MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (1935).

Its weaknesses are some obvious rear-projection shots and painted backgrounds, de Havilland's painfully forced laughter early in the film, and Basil Rathbone's unconvincing French accent. Flynn and Rathbone's duel, filmed on the beach at Laguna, California, is a worthy predecessor to their more famous bout in THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), and evidence of Rathbone's reputation as the best sword fighter in Hollywood.

The cast also includes: Ross Alexander (Jeremy Pitt), Robert Barrat (Wolverstone), Hobart Cavanaugh (Dr. Bronson), Donald Meek (Dr. Whacker), Jessie Ralph (Mrs. Barlow), Forrester Harvey (Honesty Nuttall), Frank McGlynn Sr. (Rev. Ogle), Holmes Herbert (Capt. Gardner), David Torrence (Andrew Baynes), J. Carrol Naish (Cahusac), Pedro de Cordoba (Don Diego), Harry Cording (Kent), Leonard Mudie (Baron Jeffreys), Ivan F. Simpson (Prosecutor), Stuart Casey (Capt. Hobart), David Cavendish (Lord Gildoy), Mary Forbes (Mrs. Steed), E.E. Clive (Clerk of the Court), Colin Kenny (Lord Chester Dyke), Maude Leslie (Mrs. Baynes), Gardner James (Slave), Vernon Steele (King James), and many others. Erich Wolfgang Korngold composed the original music. Casey Robinson wrote the screenplay based on Rafael Sabatini's 1922 novel "Captain Blood". Michael Curtiz directed.

CAPTAIN BLOOD is available in all formats of home video internationally, including a pastel colorized release. The black and white DVD includes the film, and also a 23 minute featurette about making of the film and how two stars were made overnight. Runtime is 119 minutes, the soundtrack is English Dolby Digital mono, and French Dolby Digital mono. Subtitles are in English, Spanish, and French. There are also a radio broadcast, newsreel footage, theatrical trailers, and three bonus shorts: JOHNNY GREEN AND HIS ORCHESTRA (1935), ALL-AMERICAN DRAWBACK (1935), and BILLBOARD FROLICS (1935).

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