A Pair of Piratical Pictures Paint a Pretty Portrait of Mid-Century Hollywood High Seas Adventure.
BLU-RAY STREET DATE JULY 21, 2020/KINO LORBER STUDIO CLASSICS
Kino Lorber Studio classics recently released a series of Universal Pirate films from the 1950s onto blu-ray. Let’s pair two of these, Buccaneer Girl from 1950, and Against All Flags from 1952, as a double feature.
Buccaneer’s Girl (1950)
DIRECTED BY FREDERICK DE CORDOVA
Yvonne DeCarlo stars in this pleasantly silly romp as Deborah McCoy, a down-on-her luck entertainer who stows away on a ship bound for New Orleans. She’s hoping to make a fresh start in the Big Easy, but her ship is besieged by the dread pirate Baptiste (Phillip Friend). Her beauty and vivaciousness catch Baptiste’s attention, but she has no intention of remaining a captive aboard his ship. She escapes and makes it to the city, where she discovers Baptiste’s startling secret.
DeCarlo is best known to generations of TV fans as the matriarch of the Munster clan, Lily Munster. As a film actress, she worked steadily throughout the 40s and 50s, mostly cast as exotic beauties in Westerns or Musicals. Buccaneer’s Girl gives DeCarlo plenty of opportunities to show off both her considerable musical and comedic chops. Maybe her best known film roles are as Sephora, wife to Charlton Heston’s Moses in The Ten Commandments. She’s fine in that type of dramatic role, but she really comes to life in the role of a bawdy showgirl.
Buccaneer’s Girl is a fast-paced, lighter-than-air confection that provides plenty of fun. It’s the sort of picture that was director Frederick De Cordova’s specialty (long before he worked on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson). It’s musical numbers are catchy, and its period costuming and set design are colorful.
Robert Douglas plays Narbonne, a businessman who seems to be Baptiste’s chief target, Norman Lloyd plays his henchman. Elsa Lanchester appears as a ‘proprietor’ of a ‘charm school.’
Kino Lorber’s blu-ray comes packaged with a theatrical trailer and a feature-length audio commentary by Lee Gambin.
Against All Flags (1952)
DIRECTED BY GEORGE SHERMAN
Against All Flags is more of a straight-up adventure story compared to the comedy/musical stylings of Buccaneer’s Girl. Errol Flynn plays Lieutenant Brian Hawke (now there’s a name!). Hawke is tasked with infiltrating the secret pirate city on Madagascar. Under the guise of a deserter (and flogged to make the ruse more convincing!), he makes his way to the city in order to scope out its defenses and disable them so the British Navy can raid the base unimpeded.
His story is met with some suspicion from Captain Roc Brasiliano, played by Anthony Quinn. Brasiliano wants Hawke to prove his pirate mettle to the “Captain’s Council,” the chief pirates who run the city. Among the council is Prudence ‘Spitfire’ Stevens, played by Maureen O’Hara. She takes a liking to Hawke, and the two of them begin to grow romantically attached. This could cause more than a few awkward moments when Hawke’s true allegiances are revealed!
Buckling swashes is Flynn’s speciality, and even here at the tail end of his career, he’s a natural at it. His performance is not as physical as it might’ve been when he was younger (Flynn was apparently drinking heavily on the set- his scenes had to be finished shooting by early afternoon, as he would be too drunk to continue past that point). He still has that roguish charm, however, that lets him smile and wink his way out of most jams. There’s a strong Roger Moore in Octopussy vibe to Flynn here, and I mean that as a complement.
And unlike DeCarlo in Buccaneer’s Girl, they let O’Hara sword fight in Against All Flags. She’s a fierce and fiery presence in the film. She throws herself into her action scenes with gusto and you almost feel sorry for both Flynn and Quinn as they seem hopelessly outmatched by her.
Against All Flags looks like it had a much higher budget than its earlier counterpoint. The models are bigger and the costuming and set designs are more detailed. There are even some impressive matte paintings that establish the exotic locale. But overall, the film lacks some of the spirit of Buccaneer’s Girl.. It’s a very pretty picture and the cast is charming and game, but the film moves a little too slowly in places. It coasts along, when it should be sprinting.
Kino Lorber’s blu-ray of Against All Flags comes packaged with theatrical trailers and an audio commentary by Stephen Vagg.