Now THIS is what a pirate movie should be. Yeah, there’s a lot of kissy-facing that would be much more convincing if it starred Errol Flynn instead of Sterling Hayden, but there’s also plenty of swashing buckles, proffering pistols, capeswishing, rapier swishing, rum, yo-ho-ho-ing, and stuff blowing up to compensate. Actually, on second thought: Hayden is well-cast. The role calls for someone handsome and charming….but not quite as handsome or as charming as thinks he is.
So Hayden is Kit Gerardo, French privateer and captain of the Sea Flower. Yeah, it’s a sissy name. Just roll with it. Then there’s Rhonda Fleming as the beautiful and red-headed lady captain, Captain Rouge. Her ship is the Witch, which is slightly more badass but also rather underused. Ah well, budgets must have been tight, that’s understandable. There’s another lovely and also headstrong damsel, Helena Carter as Senorita Bianca–the destined bride of Kit’s hated enemy, Captain Del Toro (John Sutton), who is also Governor of Cartagena. Why hated? Because Del Toro killed Kit’s mother.
Dun DUN DUNNNN!
So things happen, rapiers are flourished, headscarves and frilly shirts are worn, cannons are fired, ships are boarded, escapes are made, ransoms are demanded, nubile native dances are danced, you-saved-my-life-debts are repaid, and with one thing and another, Kit ends up in command of the French fleet attacking Cartagena. The attack is preceded by a series of quick stops off at Jamaica to destroy the English supply lines there and prevent the English from aiding the Spaniards. (Huh? Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk taught me that the English were enemies of the Spanish in the Caribbean….oh well, never mind, we’s on a roll.) But in the midst of this pillaging, Kit discovers that the plantation he has just torched belongs to none other than Rouge (Jane) herself! She swears revenge!
DUN DUN DUNNNN!
Anyhow, Kit’s master plan for taking Cartagena involves e) getting to the powder magazine and f) blowing it up. What about part a-d)? Well, those are: a) getting to Madame Bianca Del Toro, b) seducing her, c) getting the plans of the fortress via, d) promising marriage. Bianca, not being a complete idiot, immediately turns him over to her outraged and jealous husband. Who…sticks him in the dungeon to await a fair trial, instead of, as she demands, hanging him immediately. Why? Well, because Kit is actually Del Toro’s son!
DUN DUN DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNN. Oh, this movie is just awesome.
Will Rouge get revenge? Will Del Toro be forced to kill our hero? Will Kit fulfill his mission and be handsomely rewarded by the French government? The answers are to be found within about ten minutes, so there’s really no point in pondering them all too deeply. Just know that it all gets wrapped up and tied with a flourish and a tip of the hat to the ladies, too.
Do I have to discuss how this movie has strong female characters? It has some really interesting strong–and extremely feminine–female characters. They fall in love–they fight back–they defend their honor and maintain their dignity with words if they can and pistols if they must, suss out motivations and psych out the opposition. No, they don’t engage in any sword fighting themselves (if it had been Maureen O’Hara, on the other hand….)–but they hardly need to. These women are dangerous enough on their own. And that’s about all that needs to be said. Oh, they also look really, really pretty in Technicolor.
My favorite part: womanizing Kit has a bit where, if a lady is dubious, he offers her a pistol and promises to let her shoot him if he makes a single improper advance. We see him do this to two wenches early on in the film–and then he tries it on Jane. Several minutes later (as Kit’s men are scraping him off the deck): “I knew he’d pull that pistol trick once too often!” Snerk.
Rated: Five pistols out of five.