Sunday, June 9, 2013

Captain Blood (1935)

Director: Michael Curtiz                              Writer: Casey Robinson
Film Score: Erich Wolfgang Korngold          Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Starring: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Lionel Atwill and Basil Rathbone

The first and arguably the best of the cinematic team of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, Captain Blood was also the first leading role for Flynn and still one of the greatest swashbucklers of all time. The film benefits from so many great things, not the least of which is the vibrance of the source material by Rafael Sabatini. Then there is the brilliant direction by Michael Curtiz. There is also a wonderful score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, in what was his first original score in Hollywood. Finally there is an outstanding cast that includes some of the greatest character actors of the period. This is easily one of my top ten films of all time.

The story begins in England, 1685, during the reign of King James. The rebels fighting against the crown have been defeated soundly by the king’s forces, and when one of the wounded calls for his physician he naturally responds to help. Errol Flynn is Dr. Peter Blood, who is unfairly rounded up with the other rebels and sent as a slave to the West Indies. There he is purchased by Lionel Atwill, whose daughter is Olivia de Havilland. She takes a liking to Flynn and helps him whenever she can, much to Flynn’s dismay. For he is insolent to the core, steadfast in his innocence and refusing to submit to what he considers illegitimate authority.

But the story is just beginning. When Flynn manages to escape from the island aboard a Spanish ship, he and his fellow inmates become the most famous pirates in the Caribbean, and of course he winds up crossing paths with de Havilland again and romance ensues. Errol Flynn was the best possible choice for the lead role. Unlike lesser talents like Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Tyrone Power, he has a playfulness and insouciance that is undeniably compelling. Add to that the incredibly vivacious personality of Olivia de Havilland, in only her fourth film, and the combination would be one that became box-office gold for Warner Brothers. And there’s so much more greatness to the cast, Basil Rathbone as Flynn’s pirate rival, Henry Stephenson as the king’s emissary, as well as Guy Kibbee, J. Carroll Nash, E.E. Clive and Forrester Harvey.

The whole thing is helmed by the man I consider the greatest director of the golden era, Michael Curtiz. The Hungarian immigrant directed over one hundred and seventy films during his career and could direct everything, earning Academy Award nominations for the musical Yankee Doodle Dandy, the family drama Four Daughters, Captain Blood, and winning the Oscar for Casablanca. And then to top things off with a score by one of the all time greats, Erich Wolfgang Korngold is just magnificent. This is a long film, at almost two hours, and every bit of it is great. There is action, romance, politics, intrigue, a prison break and more. Captain Blood is everything you could want in an adventure film and has more than deserved its status as one of the all time classics.

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