Monday, March 10, 2008

CAPTAIN BLOOD (Warner Bros. 1935) Warner Home Video

Michael Curtiz’s Captain Blood (1935) gets the nod for launching Errol Flynn’s career as a larger than life swashbuckling hero. Not that anyone at Warner Bros. anticipated the fervor Flynn, or the film, would generate with movie audiences. Men thrilled at the manly antics of Raphael Sabatini's roguish adventurer, while women were quick to plug into Flynn's natural - and rather obvious - sex appeal.  He became an instant matinee idol.

Jack Warner had originally wanted stoic British pretty boy, Robert Donat for the lead. And even after it became apparent that Donat was a no show, Warner next turned to stock player Brian Aherne to take his place. However, as luck would have it Aherne turned the part down leaving relatively unknown – and virtually unproven – Errol Flynn to step into screen immortality as everyone’s favorite rapscallion in tights.

The story opens with loyalist, Dr. Peter Blood (Flynn) tending the wounds of a traitor to the monarchy. Wrongfully convicted of treason and sentenced to death, Blood is instead sold into slavery on a galley, eventually moored at the picturesquely tropical Port Royal.

There, the sultry Arabella Bishop (Olivia DeHavilland) purchases Blood for a mere twenty pounds to be her servant. At first, a quiet insolence permeates their ‘master/slave’ relationship – she, mis-perceives him to be an unscrupulous dog, though handsome nonetheless, and certainly qualified to tend to her every beckon call. He finds her spoiled, simpering and self-indulgent. Gradually, a quiet and more telling mutual lust develops.

In reality, Flynn was no stranger to seduction. By the end of the film he had fallen madly for DeHavilland. She reciprocated the passion wholeheartedly – at least for a time. However, when DeHavilland asked Flynn what he wanted most out of life – his quick response of ‘success’ proved a deal breaker in their relationship. DeHavilland has since gone on record as saying “That isn’t enough. I wanted respect for a job well done.” Nevertheless, Captain Blood was the first of 8 romantic adventures to pair these two perfectly matched costars.

In the film, an escape plan concocted by Blood and his accomplices goes horribly awry. An epic sea battle ensues and the British vessel stocked full of convicts is sunk. Blood manages to swim to the nearby Spanish galleon during the siege and – practically single-handedly - overpowers its crew; henceforth becoming the legendary Captain Blood.

Blood experiences great success on the open seas as a marauding pirate beholding to no country. But his adventures take an unlikely turn when Arabella is discovered below decks; the prisoner of rival sea pirate, Levasseur (Basil Rathbone). With a strange sense of indebtedness to his former mistress, Blood launches a full scale assault on Levasseur, rescues Arabella fro Levasseur and returns to Port Royal, which is currently under siege by the French.  Blood fights victoriously on the side of the British. Can you say ‘royal pardon?’…I know you can.

Captain Blood is a rollicking adventure yarn in the best tradition. Screenwriter Casey Robinson ably adapts Rafael Sabitini’s literary swashbuckler for the big screen. Indeed, the film has the look and feel of the very best Warner can offer; lavishly mounted, superbly structured, expertly cast, and quickly executed. Robinson’s script is a roller coaster – peppered in emotional interludes that afford newcomer Errol Flynn every opportunity to exercise the full breadth of his cinematic muscle. 

Given Flynn's relative inexperience in the movies his performance is shockingly good. It's easy to see why this film made him a star. He's perfect casting for the avenging hero of another time. Director Curtiz keeps the action and melodrama moving at breakneck speed. The battle sequences are intense and thrilling.

Warner Home Video's DVD is fairly impressive – given the age the film. The gray scale is relatively solid, but exhibits occasional flawed tonality during several sequences that appear to be sourced from less than first generation stocks. Film grain is present throughout, but for the most part, does not distract. Scratches and other age related imperfections are present. The audio has been restored and is presented at an adequate listening level. There are NO extras.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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