Saturday, September 28, 2013
Captain Blood (1935)
Who's in it?: Errol Flynn (The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk), Olivia de Havilland (The Adventures of Robin Hood, Gone With the Wind), Lionel Atwill (Son of Frankenstein, Mystery of the Wax Museum), and Basil Rathbone (Son of Frankenstein, The Adventures of Robin Hood, all those Sherlock Holmes movies).
What's it about?: Through a series of unfortunate circumstances, an innocent doctor named Peter Blood (Flynn) ends up on the losing side of the Monmouth Rebellion and is sent to Jamaica as a slave. Thanks to his medical skills and the kindness of the niece (De Havilland) of a powerful plantation owner (Atwill), Blood becomes physician to Jamaica's governor with enough freedom of movement to plot an escape. When he and his fellow slaves do break free, they steal a ship and begin a life of piracy, allying themselves with a notorious pirate captain (Rathbone) and his crew.
How is it?: It's tough to speak ill of a classic, but the first half of Captain Blood really drags after repeated viewings. It's all important character and plot stuff and it was interesting enough the first time I saw the movie, but the more I watch it the quicker I want to get to the escape and the swashbuckling that dominates the second half.
There are some great moments in the first half - Blood's conversation with the judge in England, for instance, and his clever machinations in Jamaica - but there's a lot to slog through as well. I never buy the tension between Blood and Arabella Bishop, for one thing. On a script level, I understand why they're at odds with each other, but Flynn and de Havilland oversell their anger and the transition from that to mutual attraction isn't smooth. Once they're together, I like them a lot, but it's a rocky road getting there.
Getting to the back half of Captain Blood is glorious though. Flynn is dashing, his crew has tons of personality, and the action is expert. Blood is a great character, full of wounded honor, but also loyalty to his crew, whom he considers family. He has some great leadership moments, like his declaration of the ship's articles and a moment near the end where he tests his friends' confidence in him by ordering them into a seemingly foolhardy and pointless mission. The way he handles it and the crew's response is one of my favorite parts of the film.
Speaking of the crew, they're great. From quietly loyal Jeremy Pitt and the jolly gunner Hagthorpe to cowardly Honesty and Bible-quoting Ogle, Blood's men are as funny as they are heart-warmingly dedicated to their captain. The film's classic action scene is Blood's fencing duel on the beach with the wicked Captain Levasseur (Rathbone), but thanks to the crew, the ship battles are just as exciting with the camera shifting between large-scale destruction and closer moments with the individual men.