When audiences saw the first Pirates of the Caribbean film in 2003, they were entertained by the film’s colorful mix of action and off-kilter humor. But director Gore Verbinski, star Johnny Depp and company weren’t the first filmmakers to poke fun at the genre while still providing action, thrills and excitement along the way. That template was set a half century earlier with 1952’s The Crimson Pirate. Burt Lancaster stars as the title character, who breaks the fourth wall right at the film’s start and urges viewers to “Believe only what you see. No, believe half of what you see!” What follows is a rollicking tale filled with high seas escapades, narrow escapes, swordfights, damsels in distress and vile villains. The Crimson Pirate, like Lancaster’s medieval adventure film, 1950’s The Flame & The Arrow, lovingly spoofs its genre while remaining firmly rooted in its cinematic traditions.
|Burt Lancaster & Torin Thatcher in The Crimson Pirate|
Lancaster plays his role with gusto, running, jumping and leaping across the screen in the film’s dynamic action sequences. His main ally is Vallo’s loyal right hand man Ojo, played by the wonderful Nick Cravat, Lancaster’s former partner from his circus days. Their easygoing chemistry makes them seem like a pirate version of Butch & Sundance, getting into and out of scrapes and tight spots with a mixture of wit, brains and athleticism. The rest of the cast is also ideal for their roles: the lovely Eva Bartok is both good as the fiery Consuelo; Torin Thatcher (best known to genre fans as the evil wizard in The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad) is appropriately slimy as the double-crossing Bellows, and Leslie Bradley is perfectly evil as the sly but overconfident Baron Gruda. There’s also an inventor named Professor Prudence, played by James Hayter, who’d give James Bond’s Q a run for his money. He contributes several gadgets to the film’s final battle. And keep an eye out for Christopher Lee in a supporting role as one of Gruda’s men.
Robert Siodmak, who had worked with Lancaster on the classic noirs The Killers and Criss Cross, directed the film. The tone is obviously much lighter here, and the film’s breezy escapism is enriched by the bright hues of Technicolor. The movie was shot in the Bay of Naples, which stood in for the Caribbean, and the lush cinematography is by Otto Heller. The sharp screenplay is by Roland Kibbee, who rewrote an initial draft from the then blacklisted scribe Waldo Salt. The rousing score by William Alwyn is firmly entrenched in the tradition of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s stirring music for previous pirate adventures, such as Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk. It’s also exciting to see to see the wonderfully choreographed stunts and action sequences in the pre-CGI days when you know you’re watching real people accomplishing these incredible feats of derring-do.
This article is part of the Swash-a-thon (The Swashbuckler Movie Blogathon), hosted by Movies Silently. Thanks to Fritzi at that site for hosting, and for allowing me to take part in all the swashbuckling fun! You can view the entries at: http://moviessilently.com/2017/07/14/the-swashathon-is-here/.