Insomniac Cult Movie Theater: Captain Blood

GhostAndy 1

Do you know what keeps me up at Night?

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Everything.

Yes, there are so many things to worry about in the world from the impending global heat death, to constant ever present political turmoil, to plastic choking our oceans, to being overworked and underpaid, to why the power struggles within Marvel Entertainment stopped us from getting Daredevil to make even the briefest of appearances in the Avengers: End Game movie.

However, I do also have personal reasons for my occasional insomnia. It’s mainly because I miss my Dad.

My Dad passed away 2 years ago this summer at the age of 78. He didn’t pass of cancer or some other horrible alignment. Sure, he struggled with the pain of diabetic nephropathy for the final several years of his life, but he wasn’t in nursing home or hospital when he went. His ticker just finally had enough and he died peacefully at his home with my mom by his side, which all things considered is a pretty okay way to go. Still though, it doesn’t mean I don’t think of him daily and miss him terribly, especially in the stillness of the night.

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I could say so many great things about my Dad. He was a wonderful fella to be around, a funny guy who loved cheesy movies, and used to have the most infectious laugh. Although he wasn’t into comic books, he had no qualms about driving me to comic book stores and giving me a little extra to buy the latest issue of Spider-man, while he sat in the car listening to old country tunes and munching on fried chicken.

He was also somewhat of a night owl himself, and you could often find him up late watching old westerns or sci-fi until the wee hours. In fact, being a child of the late 40s early 50s, he had a strong appreciation for older black/white films, which I gotta say rubbed off on yours truly.

So with that, I thought I’d cover one of those countless movies that my Dad first introduced to me over the many years we spent together. I gotta say I don’t believe this was his favorite Errol Flynn “Pirate” movie. I’m pretty sure that was “The Sea Hawk“, but regardless he was a pretty big fan of “Captain Blood” too, so without further ado….


Captain Blood

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Background:

Captain Blood is a 1935 B&W adventure movie produced by Warner Brothers Pictures and directed by the incredible film legend, Michael Curtiz.  Just to recap, some of other fantastic movies Mr. Curtiz directed during his time include some of the greatest pictures of that time such as Angels with Dirty Faces, White Christmas, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and of course the movie that won him his Acamady Award for Best Director, Casablanca.

Based off a 1922 novel by Rafael Sabatini of the same name, Captain Blood is the story of a gentleman doctor who is sold into slavery in the British West Indies during the Colonial period after he was branded a traitor by King James of England. He manages to become the leader of a group of fellow former Englishmen who have suffered the same fate as the toil in miserable conditions on the cruel plantation belonging to Colonel Bishop. Luckily for Blood, the Colonel’s niece, Arabella, falls in love with him and helps get him a job as the official doctor of the Governor of Port Royal.

However, he is still a slave, and worse yet, he is forced to endure seeing his friends who aren’t so lucky be tortured or worse. Therefore he hatches a plan to escape and during an attack on the port by Spanish pirates, Blood and his compatriots forcibly steal one of the Spanish Galleons and take to the high seas as honorable yet viciously effective pirates.

Their career as pirates makes both Blood and his crew legends of the Caribbean and very wealthy to boot. Eventually though, fate brings Arabella back into Blood’s life, and a return to Port Royal and one final reckoning with his slave past seems inevitable.

The movie was both a critical and commercial success, receiving Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, and Best Sound Editing as well as raking in the tiny little sum of $1.462 million worldwide.

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However, the real draw of this picture is the first teaming of legendary screen romantic duo of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, who would go on to make 8 more films together and become one of the defining couples in Hollywood history. What’s interesting to note though is that this film is extremely early in both of their historic careers as Warner Brothers had taken a huge risk in casting unknowns for these roles.

For Flynn this was his first role as a leading man, and catapulted him to superstardom as the swashbuckling action man in the vein of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. As for de Havilland, this was only her 4th picture and her first one too as a headlining star.

Indeed, one could argue that it was truly their magnificent on screen chemistry together in Captain Blood that really elevated both of their careers at just the right point for both of them to go on to bigger and better things, so it really is one of the most important films from that perspective.


2am Thoughts and Reflections:

Okay, first off let me just gush a bit on how much I love Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland as a film couple if you already couldn’t tell by what I said in the background section. Seriously up there with couples like Bogart and Becall or Gable and Leigh, these two are some of the best classic Hollywood has to offer. You can tell in an instant that these two were madly in love with each other off screen and everything about that electricity they had for each other lights up the movie on screen.

However from a personal perspective, I put a lot of that on Olivia de Havilland. Wow! Is she just an absolute doll! Again going back to some of her most well know work on say Gone with the Wind, there’s no doubt of her beauty grace and charm which effortless translates on the silver screen so well. I mean, she might not be a bombshell like say Heady Lamar or Jane Russell, but oh, that wonderful poise. That smile. There’s no wonder Errol feel head over heels for her.

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I mean, it’s not like Errol had any issues with romance, as he became pretty notorious around Hollywood for his prowess with the fairer sex. In fact, the term “In Like Flynn” actually comes from the exploits of Errol and his ability to score with the ladies with incredible regularity.

Still there was something special about the relationship Errol shared with Olivia on screen which can not be matched. They had a spark, a longing, just the right chemistry that makes you as a viewer want to “ship” that all day and declare it as a true “OTP” (despite the fact that Olivia says they never consummated their relationship off screen).

And given that it’s their first “date” as it were in Captain Blood, I think it’s extra special.

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But, although I am gushing over the leading couple of this film, this movie is far from being perfect.

One thing I have noticed from multiple viewings over the years is that it takes a long time to get going. It’s nearly 2 hours long, and it takes more than half of that to actually get Captain Blood to the pirate ship, which is one of the major things this movie promises.

I mean, it’s touted as an adventure on the high seas, and most of it takes place in single room sets in plantation houses, colonial court rooms, and a slave quarters. In fact, Basil Rathbone is given fairly important billing in this film as the French buccaneer, Captain Levasseur, yet he’s really only a villain in this picture for like 20 minutes, before he has an epic sword duel with Flynn, and bites it on surf of beautiful desert island.

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As a result, someone that’s really looking for non stop pirate fun will probably be pretty disappointed by this film, as there are an insane amount of sub plots and such to get through about Peter Blood’s life as a slave before we ever get there. I’m not sure if a lot of it’s necessary either from a story perspective.

Yes, it’s important to show Blood is cunning and intelligent such as when he cons the island’s other doctors into giving him money to escape from the island. It’s also important to show the poor living conditions Blood and his shipmates lived in while being slaves on the plantation, as well as the camaraderie that they developed. And it’s also fair to show the budding romance between Blood and Arabella as well as it’s ups and downs so that Blood’s decision to return her to Port Royal in the end has weight.

But all of that could have been achieved in half the time it takes, allowing for more time to be spent on the actual pirating that made Captain Blood so wealthy and powerful. That’s the stuff you want to see, movie! That’s the exciting part!

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Besides, some of the stuff they build up ends up not having any satisfying conclusion anyways. Like they really make Colonel Bishop a terrible SOB, torturing and maiming his slaves which included many of Blood’s friends. But does Blood get a chance to run him threw in the end? Nope. The most he does his have to walk the plank (near shore, mind you…so it’s not that big of a deal) and be stripped of his eventual governorship. Not really the comeuppance we deserved as viewers for one the film’s chief bad guys.


Final Grade: A-

Despite some of my grumblings above about the movie being too slow at points, let’s be honest, this is still one of the best classic pirate movies out there!

I mean the movie inspired Sloth in the Goonies to be a hero, for God’s Sake! Yes, that’s one of the films he’s watching in his basement which gives him and Chunk the idea to swing to the rescue on One Eyed Willy’s boat…but I digress.

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The direction is amazing, the leading man and lady are some of Hollywood’s golden age elite royalty, and most of all without this film, you probably wouldn’t have gotten “The Adventures of Robin Hood” 3 years later.

Yes, the amazing adaption of the classic tale of the man “who robbed from the rich to steal from the poor” which over the years has become in some people’s mind the definite version of the story, has a lot of it’s roots in Captain Blood.

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I say that mainly because a ton of the main cast of Captain Blood returns for Robin Hood including Errol Flynn as Robin, Olivia as Maid Marian, and Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy of Gisbourne. Plus it’s got pretty much the same story with a pack of noble respectable outlaws fighting against an unjust king in a swashbuckling devil may care manner.

But I’m going down a rabbit hole now…this wasn’t supposed to be a review of Robin Hood.

Then again, my Dad loved that movie too…

Maybe the next time I can’t sleep…


 

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