December 24th, 2009

CAPTAIN BLOOD (1935) ** ½

Virtual unknown Errol Flynn became a superstar when he was cast at the last minute in this big budget swashbuckling epic based on the novel by Rafael (The Sea Hawk) Sabatini.  Flynn plays Peter Blood, a doctor who is arrested for treason for giving medical aid to a wanted rebel.  Blood is sentenced to become a slave and eventually leads a revolt.  He then steals a Spanish pirate ship and makes his fellow slaves his crewmen.  They set sail for the open seas and pretty soon, Blood becomes one of the most notorious pirates of the Caribbean.


Michael (Casablanca) Curtiz directs the film with panache, which befits the lavish production.  I only wish he hadn’t relied so heavily on title cards to string the narrative together.  For example, instead of actually showing us Blood become a great pirate, he only gives us a brief montage with a lot of title cards telling us about his exploits. 


After a fairly sharp first half hour, Curtiz lets the pacing slack and the saggy middle section really prevents the film from becoming a balls-out action classic.  It may take way too long for Captain Blood to get onto his boat but once he finally starts swashing some buckles, it’s damn good times.  The final twenty minutes is pretty much one big non-stop pirate battle smorgasbord and the scene where Blood starts blowing the shit out of people with a cannon is tight too.


Flynn is simply awesome in this flick and his performance is easily the best thing about the film.  Whether he’s berating a crooked judge, rallying together the slaves, or romancing Olivia de Havilland, he commands your attention every step of the way.  The supporting cast is sharp as well.  Lionel Atwill puts in a good turn as Blood’s slave driver and Basil Rathbone is memorable as a French pirate.


Curtiz, Flynn, de Havilland, and Rathbone all returned three years later in the much better The Adventures of Robin Hood.