Captain Blood (1935)

Captain Blood (1935), directed by Michael Curtiz.

Errol Flynn's first Hollywood picture, first starring role, first teaming with Curtiz and Olivia de Havilland. Erich Wolfgang Korngold's first film score. Nominated for best picture, and Curtiz, Korngold and the screenwriter all received a load of write-in votes in their categories.

George MacDonald Fraser's review from his The Hollywood History of the World:


The definitive pirate movie is Captain Blood. Sabatini's book [...] is one of the great unrecognized novels of the twentieth century, and as close as any modern writer has come to a prose epic [...] based on Morgan's exploits within a fictitious framework, recounting the story of an Irish surgeon falsely accused of being a Monmouth rebel and sold into slavery, falling for the niece of his brutal owner, escaping to become a buccaneer, turning patriot in a crisis, getting the girl, and becoming Governor of Jamaica.

All in the day's work for the young hopeful from Northampton Rep, Errol Flynn, whose first leading role it was, and for Michael Curtiz (director), Basil Rathbone (all fleering French villainy), Lionel Atwill (brutal uncle), and the then nineteen-year-old Olivia de Havilland. They were to do even better, but as it stands Captain Blood is interesting because it does put piracy in a historical context; attention is truthfully paid to the Monmouth Rebellion, the Bloody Assizes, and best of all, to the ethics of buccaneering -- the drawing of articles, the code of discipline, even the curious provisions for life and accident insurance. Judge Jeffreys is memorably captured by Leonard Mudie, pale and feverish-eyed, delivering sentences in his dreadful dry whisper: "Now, fellow, we be done with witnesses..." [...]

[...] Curtiz and his photographer, Hal Mohr, achieved something rare in the cinema: now and then, it was as though a window had been opened on another age. The interiors look candlelit; the players seem to belong in their setting; there are few concessions to glamour; sometimes a scene looks like a Flemish painting; the slave quarters are stifling and filthy; the heat beats off the plantation and waterfront, the battles look like battles; the most famous of screen duels takes place in a half-gale (and who will ever forget Rathbone sprawled on the sand with the surf washing through his curls?) -- in a word, it looks and sounds historically real, partly because Casey Robinson had the good sense to lace the script heavily with Sabatini's dialogue. ("Don't fling your French at me!" became a playground slogan, c. 1935).

You can see Flynn (cherubic without a mustache) still learning his craft in a few spots, but he has talent and charisma to spare, as well as comic timing:


She: "I believe you're talking treason."

He: "I hope I'm not obscure."

He does not move like a big man and I tend to forget how tall and big-chested he is. Fraser tells a story in another book: Oliver Reed fancied himself a hard-drinking, hard-fighting actor. When he had Flynn's role in a remake of The Prince and the Pauper, he insisted in getting Flynn's original shirt out of storage and was astonished to find it too big for him.

Fraser's The Pyrates (unrelated to a screenplay of the same name) is the funniest thing I have read in years. A comic novel set in the Hollywood pirate universe, he gives music and casting cues, including Flynn, de Havilland, Rathbone, etc.

Finally, I've heard of a law professor who opens every term with a question to the class: "What famous film features the Bloody Assizes?" Now you know.