Friday, October 18, 2013

Best Basil Rathbone Films - #3 "Captain Blood" (1935)

I am of the opinion that we, the movie-going audience, still love pirate movies. Surely that's one of the reasons the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies are still so popular? Films glorifying the actions of pirates have come a long way since their start, but I do not know if any of them have surpassed 1935's "Captain Blood" in terms of style, production and entertainment. It is this swashbuckling epic which ranks as my third favourite Basil Rathbone film.

Dr. Peter Blood (Errol Flynn) is accused of treason during the Monmouth Rebellion. Blood is sold into slavery in Port Royal, Jamaica, where he comes under the watchful eye of Colonel Bishop (Lionel Atwill) and his daughter, Arabella (Olivia de Havilland), who he falls in love with. Blood leads a rebellion against the colonel and takes to the seas to make a career off plundering ships as the most feared pirate of the seven seas.

"Captain Blood" was the second of three big-screen adaptations of Rafael Sabatini's popular adventure novel. I have never the book, but if its anything like this move version, it is great fun. "Captain Blood" is an immensely entertaining adventure film, and surely one of the finest epics I have ever come across. What is most surprising about the film is Errol Flynn, who at the time of the movie's production, was a relative unknown. The actor's prior credits included a few supporting roles and cameos and only one lead - as Fletcher Christian, leader of the mutiny aboard the H.M.S Bounty in "In The Wake of the Bounty," a 1933 Australian film never released in the United States. Warner Bros. was certainly taking a risk casting Flynn as the lead in this movie. The same applies to Olivia de Havilland as Arabella Bishop. "Captain Blood" was only her third film.

Basil Rathbone (right) in a duel to the death with Errol Flynn
in 1935's "Captain Blood"
The supporting cast of "Captain Blood" is made up of some veteran actors, and they compliment the newcomers to the screen excellently. Of note is, of course, Basil Rathbone as the pirate captain Levasseur. Though Rathbone has a small role in story, his part is an important one as he provides the true turning point in Captain Blood's character. When Levasseur and Blood strike up a partnership, Levasseur and Blood eventually butt heads which leads to a duel to the death. I'll say now that I love sword duels on film, and "Captain Blood" features one of the best. In real life, Basil Rathbone was one of Hollywood's finest swordsman, and it's obvious that he exhibits true skill throughout. Meanwhile, Lionel Atwill turns in a fine performance as Colonel Bishop. Similar to Rathbone's Levasseur, Bishop is a character we're supposed to hate, but Atwill manages to make the character strangely likable by enthusing bits of comedy throughout. It is obvious that both Basil Rathbone and Lionel Atwill are having a grand old time playing their parts in this film, and their joy really does translate brilliantly to the screen. Rathbone would reunite with Flynn later in life - crossing blades with the actor in 1938's "The Adventures of Robin Hood" and the two would share the screen in my number four pick, "The Dawn Patrol."

"Captain Blood" is I think the pirate film to end all pirate films. Later in life, Errol Flynn would take to the seven seas as a pirate in 1940's "The Sea Hawk," which is a fine film in its own right, but it cannot possibly eclipse "Captain Blood." It is such a great adventure film and one which I highly recommend to anyone.

Coming Next Time: Its another swashbuckler - "The Mark of Zorro"

1 comment:

  1. I didn't know Rathbone was in this! I will have to check it out.


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