“Are you willing to fight, men?”
Swashbucklers are not my favorite film genre. I do not hate them I feel that if you have seen one you have seen them all. Besides most of the ones that I have seen are super cheesy (or annoying like I find Pirates of the Caribbean). Well I shall now be making an exception with Captain Blood starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland… and it is not just because they are the two stars.
Dr. Peter Blood (Flynn) has been wrongly accused of treason by the King of England when he helped to save a rebel. He had never taken a side so he finds that he is accused of treason to be ridiculous and unfair. Blood and a group of other men are sentenced to be hanged until fait intervenes in a perverse way and they are saved only to be sent to Jamaica as slaves.
Once in Jamaica they are auctioned off like cattle to a man named Colonel Bishop (Lionel Atwill). Before he buys them he checks their muscles and demands that they open their mouths. When the colonel gets to Peter the wronged slave does not open his mouth when told to embarrassing the colonel in front of the town. Bishop refuses to take him but his niece Arabella (de Havilland) defies her uncle and bids on Peter.
Peter is still a slave but instead of doing labor like the others he is assigned by the governor to be his doctor after he got rid of the governor’s gout. Peter begins to plan an escape with the other men. Fait again intervenes when the French invade the small colony. The men highjack a ship and set sail on the high seas.
Captain Blood and his crew are now notorious pirates of international waters. But they do have rules and regulations since Peter is first and foremost a gentleman.
One of the ships the crew highjack’s happens to be the ship that Arabella is traveling on back to Jamaica. She is traveling with a diplomat to the crown unbeknownst to Peter. Peter wants to do the right thing and bring Arabella back to Jamaica even though her uncle who is now governor of the island wants to kill him and his men. On their way back they see the Spanish are now invading the colony. The shipmates are in a jam, they do not want to help King James the man who had them sent to the island. But the diplomat tells them that they will not be fighting for King James they will be fighting for good King William who has taken over the throne and their treason is pardoned.
Captain Blood and his men fight for the king. The English conquer the Spaniards with the help of the pirates. The diplomat is outraged when Bishop returns because as governor he left his country alone to be taken over. He appoints Peter as the new governor.
And I am sure you can guess that Peter and Arabella wind up together.
This is the first film in which Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland were given top billing and also the first of their nine pairings. Flynn is wonderful. His character is supposed to be a kind and charming man and that is exactly the way he plays him. Besides Robin Hood, Peter Blood is my favorite of Flynn’s screen roles I have seen. He was wonderful in all the action scenes. Olivia de Havilland was nineteen years old when she made this film. She was flawless even at the beginning of her career. I could not get over how adorable she was from the moment she came on screen. They had a very cute scene where Arabella and Peter go for a horseback ride. He knows she likes him but she will not admit it so he kisses her and then she smacks him. You can definitely see even at the beginning of their paring Flynn and de Havilland had such great chemistry.
Lionel Atwill is once again the villain-type character and is once again in period costume. He looks terrible in period costume and he would wear the garb again two years later in The Great Garrick.
Basil Rathbone is in the film for five minutes. He plays a slimy French pirate named Levaisseur who teams up with Captain Blood and his crew for a while until he wants to take Arabella for his own when it is against Blood’s rules. So Peter and Levaisseur battle it out and Peter comes out on top.
Michael Curtiz made a great film. He gave you a straightforward pirate film without the frills of damsels in distress or artsy camera work. What is more he knew how to get the best out of his actors. Of all the Michael Curtiz films I have seen the actors that starred in them have given some of their best performances.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold provided the score. The man was a genius. His music is what keeps you gripped to the screen at all times. The score is not over done it is just right.
Warner Bros. took a big chance on casting a relatively unknown Errol Flynn in a leading film role with lots of adventure and action. They also took a big chance on Olivia de Havilland who had yet to make her mark at the studio. Everything about Captain Blood worked to perfection. It is one of the most entertaining and fun swashbucklers/adventure films to sit through.