Monday, July 11, 2011

The way to do a pirate movie
when you can't afford a ship!

Pirates of Blood River (1962)
Starring: Kerwin Mathews, Christopher Lee, Glenn Corbitt, Peter Arne, Michael Ripper, Andrew Keir, Marla Landi, and Oliver Reid
Director: John Gilling
Stars: Seven of Ten Stars

An outcast from an isolated religious settlement in the Caribbean (Mathews) is tricked by pirates into leading them to the community. While Captain LaRouche (Lee) and his chief henchmen (Arne and Ripper) lead a campaign of terror against the settlers, and the outcast tries to convince his father (Keir) to reveal where the secret treasure the pirates are after is hidden, his best friend (Corbitt) and sister (Landi) are planning a guerilla war against the invaders.

"Pirates of Blood River" is a unique film first and foremost because the budget was so small that there are no exterior scenes on board sailing ships, no ship-to-ship combat... none of the overt Age of Sail action that we expect from a movie with the word "Pirates" in the title. That's not to say that there isn't a pirate movie made where a significant portion doesn't take place on land, it's just that the lack of ocean is conspicuous in its absence here.

Instead, we have a film that has the feels like a precursor of the Spaghetti Western, with evil banditos laying siege to and menacing innocent farmers. The settlement is even protected by a palisade that looks a little bit like an old west fort.

These similarities, however, are overwhelmed by the iconic performances given by Christopher Lee, as the hardbitten pirate captain driven by a mysterious obsession that makes him want this particular treasure, no matter what the cost; fading matinee idol Kerwin Mathews, and up-and-coming leading man Glenn Corbitt as the square-jawed, purehearted thorns in his side; and Peter Arne and Michael Ripper as two of the vilest, villainous sidekicks you'll ever want to see get their just desserts.

In fact, Lee and Ripper both give exception performances in this film, with each given far more to do than they are usually called upon. Lee presents a character that keeps everyone and everything at arms length, a secretive man with the tales of what cost him his eye and his arm, and why he is fixated on the treasure possessed by the settlers, remaining secrets known only to him. Lee's every word, gesture, and action are but a hint at the depths within this character and this makes for fascinating viewing.

While not as fascinating and nowhere near as deep, Ripper provides a great and boisterous show as an obnoxious pirate, one of the few times where he got to do something other than a bit-part. This character is so much a love-to-hate figure that I wish even more strongly now that Ripper had received a greater selection of larger, meatier roles during his career; he was a great character actor who probably never got to show everything he was capable of.

In addition to some great performances, "Pirates of Blood River" features a fast-moving story that features so much shooting, fighting, and swashbuckling that you ultimately won't care that the closet thing we get to a ship in the film is a makeshift raft the pirates make to float down said Blood River. A trek through the swamp--where the beleaguered villagers turn the pirates from predators into prey--and the final showdown between heroes and villains are among some of the most satisfying sequences in any movie released by Hammer Films... and even any pirate movie you might see.

No comments:

Post a Comment