director Michael Curtiz
For all the films, genres, stars, experiences that I handpick to show to my kids, intending to expose them to the breadth of cinema, there are a number of those that I, myself, have no first-hand experience. Take Errol Flynn for instance. Before we watched The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) last year, I couldn’t claim that I’d really seen any of his films. The more and more that we watch together, and the broader and broader of the material to which they are open, we will doubtlessly continue to forge into territory that is new not just for them, but for me.
Actually, I hadn’t realized that it had already been a year since we saw our first Errol Flynn film. I’d had Captain Blood in my queue, waiting for its week for film night.
Captain Blood is actually a title that I recall getting heavy play on television as a kid and actually still on TCM. For whatever reason, I’d never seen it. Based on a popular novel of the early 20th Century, it tells the tale of a doctor turned pirate in the topsy-turvy world of 17th Century Britain. The evil (or at least very unlikable) King James has a group of rebels sent off as slaves to Jamaica to serve a brutal Lord there on his plantation. Dr. Blood (Flynn) had been an adventurer, but had settled as a doctor, only pulled into the courts when captured healing a rebel. When opportunity finally shows itself, he leads an escape of the unjustly imprisoned men, taking a pirate ship and then turning buccaneers themselves, becoming the scourge of the Caribbean.
For all its swashbuckling, the film actually takes quite a while to get to its first battle and it’s quite deep into the story before a sword fight breaks out. By contrast, action got happening much more quickly and regularly in the later The Adventures of Robin Hood. Oddly enough, the kids were both invested in the film early on, not being plaintive for more action.
Again, I thought that Felix would be more into it than Clara. He was more into it than he was in the prior week’s Astaire/Rogers film Swing Time (1936), but Clara was in some ways equally as excited about it as the other. As for me, I enjoyed it a great deal, too, though I did find it a bit slower than ye olde Robin Hood.
The finale is by far the best, as Blood leads his crew in an attack on two French ships engaged in besieging the port. Finding out that James has been chased from the throne, usurped by King William, the English take the pirates back and the enemy has now sided with the French. The battle sequence is enthralling. While Felix noted the fakery of the skies in the background on some shots, it’s a testament to the battle sequence that one isn’t drawn to figuring out what shots are models, which shots are sound stage, trying to decipher the artifice. It’s just a good old adventure with the high-flying Flynn, still exciting and fun.