Today I watched Michael Curtiz’ Captain Blood (1935)
From the modern effects driven adventure of The Pirates of the Caribbean, we turn the clock back to the pirate films of old. The titular Peter Blood (not yet a captain) is a physician in England during the Monmouth rebellion of 1685, while he refuses to support the rebels in battle, when one of them comes to his house wounded. Blood decides to follow his oath to heal and give aide to the man but this gets him brought in on charges of treason, the punishment for which is slavery in the new world. He is sold in the market of Port Royal to the daughter of Colonel Bishop, the military leader there. He is soon noticed for his medical skill however, as the governor has a bad case of the gout which none of the colony’s other doctors can treat. But Blood is a proud man and will not stand to live in slavery plotting all the while to escape, his opportunity finally comes when Spanish pirates raid the port. Blood rallies the other slaves together and they steal the Spanish vessel, sailing off to become pirates and have many merry adventures.
The Great Depression was a golden age for pulp because life sucked way too much not to have such outlets, but as times change, there is a lot that dates the films of the era. While I criticize Marvel movies and the like of having rather weak villains and easy conflicts but boy do these old pulp flicks sure know how to put the heroes on easy street. The villains of this film generally end up beating themselves and even slavery is portrayed as only a minor inconvenience to the wiles of our protagonist. There are situations which would be pretty intense, but they inevitably end up going Blood’s way because he is the luckiest man alive. Other old fashioned elements of this film also make it difficult to consume as anything other than a relic, most notably the female character’s pretty much just being set dressing and objects of romance.
Yet as a relic it is still very interesting, and a prime example of it’s genre. The special effects are really on point, with exceptional use of miniatures and big scale set pieces. The cast includes such classic faces as Basil Rathbone and Errol Flynn in his first big hit playing the lead. Flynn is particularly excellent as Blood, the romantic freedom fighter type pirate who defines honour among thieves. But the absolute ease with which the story unfolds is more a warning, this is the kind of movie we get when all that we want is escapism and entertainment. But the history of cinema, and story telling in general, has told me that drama is difficult and challenging, but all the more entertaining than the fluff, thus I would prefer not to go back. 3/5