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Captain Blood (1935)


 He just LOOOOVES to murder! It's so FUN!
He just LOOOOVES to murder! It's so FUN!

Genre: Action Adventure Romance  

Starring: Errol Flynn (The Adventures of Robin Hood • The Charge of the Light Brigade), Olivia de Havilland (Gone With The WindThe Heiress)

Directed By: Michael Curtiz (The Jazz Singer • Yankee Doodle Dandy)

Overview: When doctor Peter Blood is unjustly imprisoned for treason, he is sent to the New World to serve as a slave. Eventually the doctor masterminds an escape, captures a ship and becomes Captain Blood, a most feared pirate of the Caribbean.

With Captain Blood having a 100% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes Critic-O-Meter, I'm going to do what I did with Scarfacewhich was to go against the grain and flip the thumb and nose my bird at good ol' doctor Blood. This time, however, I have far more reasons to roll my eyes.

We begin the tale with a man pleading for assistance at the door of doctor Peter Blood in the middle of the night. Dr. Blood is a man who, instead of rushing to the aid of a chest-sucking wounded rebel soldier, prefers to get better dressed for the occasion - it is the 1680s after all, so decorum is first in all things. Now, instead of hurrying into his knickers, Blood does so while waxing romantic about his ethic and background to his maid, who of course already know the story. His exposition is filled with "as you know"s and "you might well recall"s and we the audience begin Captain Blood with the full knowledge that this entire film is going to be tedium. While the good doctor is stabilizing the patient, in barges the Crown, arresting everyone for treason, holding a ridiculously one-sided trial and sentencing the vociferous Dr. Blood along with a boatload of other rebels, to the Caribbean as a slave. Once at their destination, the gallant, young, attractive, brave, educated slave, above and beyond the rest of the reeking rabble, is immediately noticed by slave-buying Col. Bishop and his daughter Arabella, who likes Peter's spunk and buys him. From here on the scenes bleed into a game of 'I own you' / 'I don't like being your slave', until Dr. Blood gets his chance to capture a ship with the rest of the slaves, and escape to the seas. Soon enough he becomes the eponymous Captain Blood, and the good doctor who spoke to his maid in the middle of the night about how he'd never take a life becomes a pirate - a swashbuckling, joyous, ethical plunderous, murderer with a band of merry assassins. From here on the story follows the theme of justice/injustice depending on who you are and what side of the war you're on today.

Let me begin with what works about Captain Blood. Much of the story elements are enjoyable, scenes like that kangaroo court of a trial and one scene where Captain Blood has a 'diplomatic breakdown' with pirate captain Levasseur. Olivia De Havilland is a talented actress in this role. It's nice to see an even-younger Olivia playing the role of a girl far more outspoken than in Gone With The Wind. The fact that she would appear opposite Errol in several of his films certainly makes my next Flynn film The Adventures of Robin Hood more palatable.

What hurts about Captain Blood is plentiful. Beginning with the simple guy-repellent standard of the 'Costume Romance' Genre, we can follow Captain Blood down the rabbit hole of issues to the art department who so obviously painted every skyline on big canvas tarps, giving us that wonderful 'Wow, they're on set' feeling of high adventure! Next, the dialogue was frequently expository, or just plain laughably too bold, turning Errol Flynn, not into a brave and gutsy Fairbanks-grade adventurer, but into a prissy little bitch with an embroidered entitlement card and zero survival instinct. When his bravery isn't ridiculously misplaced, it's in a 'too fearless' way that makes any battle he's a part of an obvious riskless win, and guess how exciting that is? Finally my big issue, forgivable now that we're in 2010 and the film is escapist over historical, but do you seriously expect me to believe that all you need in a crew is a captain and a navigator? Blood's crew is entirely made up of rebel slaves. I find it hard to believe that his inexperienced crew could become the most feared of the Caribbean given their doubtful ability of getting a ship out of port. And of course, after years of service and plunder, they never ever die in sieges, just their enemies do.

Oh? You say you'll have me killed if I make a peep? Well *peep*. I DARE YOU! *PEEP* HA! HA!!
Oh? You say you'll have me killed if I make a peep? Well *peep*. I DARE YOU! *PEEP* HA! HA!!

Performance: 7 Cinematography: 6 Script: 6 Plot: 6 Mood: 4

Overall Rating: 58% (Bloody 'Ell)

In short, I hurried with my review as my brain was quickly purging the memory of the film to make room for something better. A most disappointing first experience with Errol Flynn, and one that makes me doubt my enjoyment of the upcoming Oscar-winning, Best Film nominated The Adventures of Robin Hood. I don't expect to be gloriously moved by all the ballwaving bravery.

Let me add in closing that upon closer inspection of the Rotten Tomatoes rating, some of those critics are very lukewarm about the film, adding caveats to their 'thumbs up' decision. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Captain Blood was a chore, finding many scenes daring and stunty, but the overall mood was just completely slain. Being in an age of Blu-Ray and CG doesn't help protect this ages-old classic, but it doesn't forgive it under the guise of 'context' either. With that over-the-top fool's bravery and those tragically painted backdrops we suffer just a little too much, not to mention the simple logic questions and lack of historical accuracy.

But all is not lost, kiddies! Captain Blood taught me that swashbuckling isn't seafaring-specific. Its definition is 'a swaggering or daring soldier or adventurer'.

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