The 101 Action movies moves into the age of the talkies with this high-seas adventure starring Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland.
Flynn plays Peter Blood, an Irish doctor who is wrongly convicted of treason against King James, and in lieu of hanging is shipped off to Port Royal in the Caribbean as a slave to work on the sugar cane plantations. He is purchased by the Bishop family, specifically Arabella (De Havilland), who upon learning that he’s a doctor helps him out by making him the chief physician to the island’s Governor.
Blood fosters a brotherhood, and loyalty amongst his fellow slaves, and begins to plan an escape from the island, and take to the water. On the eve of their plan coming to fruition, the Spanish sail into the harbor and lay siege to the English-held island.
They steal the barely crewed Spanish ship, and draw up a list of rules and guidelines as they turn pirate, but decidedly honorable ones. They all get shares in any booty taken, and though Blood is captain, there is a measure of democracy at work on the ship as well.
Arriving in Tortuga, they foster a partnership with the French pirate captain Levasseur (Basil Rathbone), a decision Blood regrets shortly after he’s made it, especially when Levasseur seizes Arabella’s ship on her return to Port Royal and takes her hostage.
This allows for a really nice bit of fencing-inspired swordplay between Rathbone and Flynn.
The story races to its climax, as Blood and his crew sail the seas, claim riches, all as the plan to return to Port Royal to take Arabella home, the two have fallen in love with one another, though neither of them seems willing to admit it. Blood is risking not only his neck, but his entire crews to do it, as they will hang as escaped slaves should they set foot on the island.
But word has come that James is no longer king, and King William has offered Blood, his crew, and his ship, a place in the British Navy. Good timing, because now, England and France are at war, and the French are attacking Port Royal…
There’s some nice model work on the ships, especially in the film’s climax as the French and English forces clash, and as Blood’s ship begins to sink out from under them, they take and board one of the French ones battling it out on the decks, swinging from ship to ship.
Flynn is engaging as Blood, I would have liked to see a rematch between him and Rathbone in the film’s climax, as their showdown is really quite good. I also would have liked a little more in the way of the love story being developed between Blood and Arabella, it almost seems to be shoehorned in there because it’s expected.
Oh well. They’ll all get another chance in The Adventures of Robin Hood in 1938, which isn’t too far off on the 101 Action movies list…