Captain Blood (1935)
Captain Blood (1935)

Genre: Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 59 min.

Release Date: December 28th, 1935 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Michael Curtiz Actors: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Lionel Atwill, Basil Rathbone, Ross Alexander, Guy Kibbee, Henry Stephenson, Robert Barrat, Donald Meek

 


 

“W

ill you be back for breakfast?” In England in 1685, in the middle of the night, Irishman Dr. Peter Blood (Errol Flynn) is called upon to tend to militiaman Lord Gildoy, who was injured in battle against the tyrannical Prince James II. When dragoon captain Hobart arrives, Blood isn’t concerned, as the Christian government surely won’t make war against the wounded. Plus, the physician is a man of peace; a healer, not a slayer.

But the callous cavalryman doesn’t want to hear any such excuses. As a result, Blood is thrown in prison for three months before being transferred to Taunton Castle Hall for a sham trial, during which he’s sentenced to hang. On a whim, however, the King orders that all men awaiting execution are to be sent to Port Royal, an English colony, to be sold as slaves – a valuable commodity in the West Indies. Doomed to a 10-year stint on a plantation or in the merciless Dixon’s mines, Blood is instead bought by Colonel Bishop’s (Lionel Atwill) niece, Arabella (Olivia de Havilland), when he shows great defiance at the auction. Initially forced into hard labor, Blood is soon promoted to the governor’s doctor when the island’s only two physicians prove to be terribly incompetent. But with greater freedoms comes a hopefulness for escape – and a plan to acquire a boat to set sail as a pirate on the high seas.

A classic tale of wrongful imprisonment, daring escape, and vigilantism as revenge, “Captain Blood” takes the shape of Robin Hood or the Count of Monte Cristo or Ben-Hur, but with an added level of sea-bound swashbuckling. “This is what I call a timely interruption!” Spanish pirates show up in the nick of time, allowing for some overly convenient circumstances to aid in Blood’s quest, but they also cheapen the effectiveness of the storytelling. In a moment for retribution, Hollywood’s code of ethics similarly interferes, insisting that Blood refuse an opportunity to exact savage yet wholly understandable justice against his primary persecutor. He may be part of a brotherhood of pirates, but they retain a respect for the Bible, a fairness for the splitting of booty, and an insistence that no woman be molested under his watch. These are some unusually decent pirates.

The central romance bares a resemblance to many of Rafael Sabatini’s works, though it too is watered down for the sensibilities of the ’30s. On the same note, the goodnatured attitude of Blood and his jolly crew fails to match the severity of Bishop’s actions, though they ensure that Blood never even crosses over into the territory of an antihero. Comparably, he doesn’t appear fearful of betrayal, which is never far away from the life of an outlaw, or of capture by the authorities, who would certainly not be as lenient as his own judgments over his foes. Fortunately, with Basil Rathbone in the cast (as the shifty Captain Levasseur), there are nerve-wracking swordfights, hostage/ransom scenarios, and a hint of bloodshed. An epic battle between ships (complete with the boarding of the enemy vessel) at the finale is also a return to fitting pirate endeavors – even if the parting shot (as fantastically joyous as it may be) concedes to the overt fancifulness of Flynn’s fun-loving buccaneer.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10