Nate and Hayes (Savage Islands) (1983)
Nate and Hayes (Savage Islands) (1983)

Genre: Action and Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 39 min.

Release Date: November 18th, 1983 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Ferdinand Fairfax Actors: Tommy Lee Jones, Michael O’Keefe, Max Phipps, Jenny Seagrove, Grant Tilly, Peter Rowley, Bill Johnson, Kate Harcourt, Reg Ruka, David Letch




aptain Bully Hayes (Tommy Lee Jones) and his band of pirates set ashore on a tropical island, full of natural dangers, ominous natives, hazardous terrain … and a stash of gold. But what was supposed to be a standard trade of guns for gold turns into a deadly clash, forcing Hayes to flee for his life – through booby traps and across a rope bridge – not unlike the adventures of Indiana Jones (in particular, his journeys in the Temple of Doom, which wouldn’t premiere for another couple of years). And even after Hayes escapes the anti-colonialists, it’s only temporary; he’s soon apprehended by grimy rascal Ben Pease (Max Phipps), who works for Spain to stop the illegal sales of arms.

In prison, awaiting a hanging, Bully recounts his earlier days aboard the ship Rona, during which he ferried two Christian missionaries, Nathaniel Williamson (Michael O’Keefe) and his fiancee Sophie (Jenny Seagrove) to a remote island to help with the converting of the inhabitants. Although Hayes prides himself on his morals and standards – which set him apart from legendary yet fictional pirates – it’s Sophie who proves less upright, clearly making passes at the captain while her soon-to-be-husband is seasick below deck. Additionally, after the voyage concludes and they part ways, Sophie can’t seem to stop dwelling on Hayes’ charm, despite the fact that his reputation brands him as a cutthroat, a brigand, and a slaver.

The film soon delivers on its piratical themes, as the island is attacked, looted, and burned, while a reverend is slaughtered and natives are captured – at the hands of the merciless Pease. Unbelievably, Williamson not only survives but also sets sail on a makeshift raft in pursuit of his kidnapped bride – who remains unmolested by her captors. It may be set in lawless times and filled with ruthless criminals, but it’s a PG affair, during which death and destruction is somewhat low (it would surely be PG-13 were it made in the ’90s). Suggestive dialogue tends to replace the visualization of heavier violence.

In fact, with the pairing of an experienced buccaneer with a naive man-of-God (like the standard buddy-cop formula), the mood is generally light-hearted and insincere, further aided by playfully rousing music (and a few too many moments in which the titular duo share a chuckle) and a glib, toothless villain. This doesn’t stop the use of occasional blood, however, from gunshots to the head to knives in the back to swords through the gut. But there’s rarely a genuine sense of danger when it comes to the protagonists; Nate, Hayes, and Sophie feel as if no harm could ever really befall them – especially during moments in which harm is about to befall them.

Just when a sequence of competent action appears, yet another scene of comic silliness follows (one of the worst involves the leads drunkenly offering to relinquish Sophie to each other, as if she’s more trivial than the various ships they commandeer; the love triangle here is nonsensical). “Nate and Hayes” certainly struggles to maintain the sincerity it requires to make the pirating endeavors adventurous. Fortunately, the sets, costumes, makeup, and props are suitable (at times bordering on impressive), the climax is decently designed and exciting (anachronistic as it may be), and the ocean warfare contains a few swashbuckling surprises. But the finale is once again riddled with unfitting levity.

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10