Review - "Captain Blood" (1935) (Warner Bros.)

WriterDave By WriterDave, 23rd Jun 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Film & TV>Action

The quintessential swashbuckling film was not made in the new millennium, nor was it made 20 years ago, nor even 50. The movie that attains this rather debatable (admittedly) credit, was made nearly 80 years ago! Impossible? Read on.

The Triumph of Curtiz

Long before Gore Verbinski made his hundreds of millions of dollars off Disney’s, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” there was the original prototype for all swashbuckling movies to come. I am referring, of course, to 1935’s, “Captain Blood.” Directed by Michael Curtiz, who also directed such classics as, “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and “Casablanca,” “Captain Blood” is the forerunner of all great pirate films. Starring two virtual unknowns in the year 1935, Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland, “Captain Blood” is a big, splashy epic which was made almost entirely on sets believe it or not.

Flynn was signed under contract to Warner Brothers in 1934 after being seen in a picture he made in England (Flynn is Australian by birth). This then would be his first starring role after two small parts in Hollywood. Many others were considered for the lead before Flynn, but the studio finally chose Flynn for three reasons: on the strength of his screen tests, the fact that other stars passed and/or were occupied, and the fact that they could get Flynn cheap (at the time).

It proved to be a lucky gamble on the part of the studio as the picture went on to be hugely successful. Flynn was born for the role of ‘Peter Blood.’ Flynn as well as de Havilland became “overnight” stars and went on to make seven more films together. Not only do Flynn and de Havilland turn in great performances, but Curtiz’ skillful direction is electrifying. Notice how the camera moves a lot to give the feel of action as you watch, “Captain Blood.” This practice, albeit commonplace today, was revolutionary in 1935. Also, Curtiz composes his frames with people milling about in the background a lot, even in close-ups. This gives the frame a sense of depth, energy, and composition. The miniatures used for “Captain Blood” in the form of 18 foot boats and fully reproduced coastline cities are incredible. The special effects are top notch and still hold up over seven decades later.

As if that weren’t enough, along comes Basil Rathbone (known best for his turn as ‘Sherlock Holmes’) to cross swords with Errol Flynn. Rathbone plays the classic “villain you love to hate.” Rathbone himself was a master swordsmen in real life and practiced fencing as a form of exercise - he was known in Hollywood, as the best real actor who could also fence. Flynn, on the other hand had no experience, but was an incredible athlete. Flynn threw himself into practicing and was able to hold his body and gait the way a master swordsmen would. Thus Flynn was convincing, and the two together produce some of the best sword play in cinema history - first in “Captain Blood” and then later, and perhaps more famously in 1939’s, “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”

All this would be more than enough entertainment, but one must mention the music of “Captain Blood” by master composer, Erich Wolfgang Korngold. Korngold’s invigorating and perfectly matched score is key to the action scenes. Korngold was relatively new to Hollywood, and like Flynn and de Havilland, unknown to most audiences of the day. Korngold is able to give the feeling of scope, excitement, pathos, danger, anything Curtiz called for, in fact. Korngold’s movie scores can be listened to on there own; they are fully completed symphonies.

So, you’ve got a terrific director, a top notch studio to back the film, great actors and contract players (like Guy Kibbee), a solid script (taken from Rafael Sabatini’s novel), super visual effects, and a superb musical score!

(Credit must be given to the excellent documentary provided by the Warner Bros. Re-Issue of "Captain Blood" DVD. Specifically, it's excellent information on Errol Flynn and the background of the making of "Captain Blood" of which this article could not have been written otherwise.)


Errol Flynn, Michael Curtiz, Olivia De Havilland

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author avatar WriterDave
Writing can be many things to many people. For me, it is a way of expression and understanding. Reviewing films, hopefully helps myself and others better understand and get more out of the film.

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