Captain Blood
1935, 119 min. b&w

One of the greatest pirate films ever, Captain Blood was based on the wonderful novel by Rafael Sabatini. I loved the book, and as far as I can remember, the film is pretty faithful to the original story. This very exciting film made Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland stars. Michael Curtiz, the master of adventure films, directed the picture, and Erich Korngold composed the music.

The story begins in England during the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685. Flynn plays Dr. Peter Blood, who is arrested for treating a wounded rebel. Though he claims to have no political motives, Blood is convicted of treason and sent to Jamaica as a slave. He ends up working on Colonel Bishop's plantation, having actually been bought by Bishop's beautiful niece (De Havilland).  During a Spanish attack on Port Royal, Dr. Blood and his fellow slaves escape, capture a Spanish galleon, and set sail as pirates in the Caribbean. Although they are pirates, Captain Blood insists that his men abide by an ethical code of conduct that, among other things, forbids the taking of female prisoners.

Finally, we meet Captain Levasseur (Basil Rathbone), a French pirate Levasseur, who joins forces with Captain Blood to increase their profits. They each set sail and agree to meet later on the Island of Virgen Magra. When that day comes, Levasseur captures an English ship that is carrying Miss Bishop as well as the King's emissary Lord Willoughby. Levasseur intends to keep Miss Bishop as a hostage while Lord Willoughby goes to Port Royal to collect a ransom from Colonel Bishop, now Governor of Jamaica. But Captian Blood will have none of it. To prevent Levasseur from laying a hand on her, Blood buys her from Levasseur with pearls. Levasseur becomes angry and a duel to the death ensues.


Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone and Yola d'Avril
 

J. Carroll Naish and Basil Rathbone

After Levasseur's death, Captain Blood sets sail for Jamaica to return Miss Bishop home. He learns from Lord Willoughby that King James has been replaced by King William. Lord Willoughby offers Blood and his crew a full pardon.  As they near Jamaica, they see that Port Royal is under attack from the French, and the English fleet that should have been protecting the city is out chasing pirates! Blood fights the French ship and is victorious. As reward, Willoughby appoints Blood Governor of Jamaica.

The highlight of the film is the duel between Captain Blood and Levasseur, which resulted in Levasseur's death. Rathbone and Flynn exhibit excellent swordplay. Rathbone's acting, and even his French accent, was superb. In an interview, Rathbone described the difficulty of filming that final swordfight on the beach: 

"Now, what we had to do was this: a man stood with a stopwatch and he timed the waves coming in. There was a short routine in which Flynn had to get me, kill me, and I had to fall just as a wave was coming in. If I fell exactly as a wave was coming in, it would cover me with water and as the wave went back out again, there I would be lying on the ground with my eyes wide open. You try lying with your eyes wide open, and sea water in them, without blinking. Well, we did it! exactly to the second, we timed the swordplay which took fifteen seconds. At the end . . . all the extras applauded loudly! They were so thrilled at the sheer skill of it because this required beautiful timing and Flynn and I worked very hard on that sequence. . . . Another thing--you see, if I went into that water and the scene was no good, I would have had to wait until the next day for a new costume."

Castle of Frankenstein #13 (1969), pp. 32-33

Robert Donat had originally been cast in the role of Captain Blood, but he backed out of the contract. Although 26-year-old Errol Flynn was under contract with Warner Brothers, he was virtually unknown, having had bit parts in only a few films. Olivia deHavilland was only 19 years old and also new to films. So Warner Brothers was taking a huge risk casting these two newcomers in leading roles. But the risk paid off in a big way and both Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland became stars. Basil Rathbone was already an established and popular star by this time.

With a production budget of less than one million dollars, most of the scenes had to be shot on sound stages. The only scene shot on location was the final showdown between Blood and Levasseur, resulting in the latter's death. This scene was filmed at Laguna Beach. For the ship battles, models of ships were used.

Captain Blood was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director (Curtiz), Best Sound Editing, and Best Writing/Screenplay. It did not win any awards.


filming on Laguna Beach
 

Director Michael Curtiz

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Cast

 

Credits

 

Errol Flynn .................... Dr. Peter Blood Production Co. .............. Warner Bros.
Olivia de Havilland ...... Arabella Bishop   Producers ....................... Harry Joe Brown
Lionel Atwill ................. Colonel Bishop     Gordon Hollingshead
Basil Rathbone ............. Capt. Levasseur   Executive Producers ...... Hal B. Wallis
Ross Alexander ............ Jeremy Pitt     Jack L. Warner
Guy Kibbee ................... Hagthorpe   Director .......................... Michael Curtiz
Henry Stephenson ...... Lord Willoughby   Assistant Director ........ Sherry Shourds
George Hassell ............. Gov. Steed   Second asst. director .... Arthur Lueker
Forrester Harvey .......... Honesty Nuttall   Writer (novel) ................ Raphael Sabatini
Frank McGlynn Sr. ...... Rev. Ogle  

Screenplay .....................

Casey Robinson
Robert Barrat ................ Wolverstone   Cinematographers ......... Hal Mohr
Hobart Cavanaugh ...... Dr. Bronson  

 

Ernest Haller
Donald Meek ............... Dr. Whacker  

Film Editor ......................

George Amy

Jessie Ralph ................. Mrs. Barlow   Music Director .............. Leo F. Forbstein
Holmes Herbert ............ Capt. Gardner  

Music Composer ...........

Erich Wolfgang Korngold

David Torrence ............ Andrew Baynes   Art Director .................... Anton Grot
J. Carroll Naish .............. Cahusac   Set Design ...................... Harper Goff
Pedro de Cordoba ....... Don Diego   Props .............................. Robey Cooper
Harry Cording .............. Kent     John More
Leonard Mudie ............ Baron Jeffreys   Costume Design ........... Milo Anderson
Ivan Simpson ............... Prosecutor   Sound Director ............. Nathan Levinson
Stuart Casey ................. Capt. Hobart   Special Effects .............. Fred Jackman
Reginald Barlow ........... Dixon   Stunts ............................. Iron Eyes Cody
Mary Forbes ................. Mrs. Steed     Tom Steele
E.E. Clive ......................... Clerk of the Court     Buster Wiles
Colin Kenny ................... Lord Chester Dyke      
Halliwell Hobbes .......... Lord Sunderland      
David Cavendish (as Dennis Auburn) ........... Lord Gildoy      
Maude Leslie ................ Mrs. Baynes  

Captain Blood is available on DVD:

Click to order

Gardner James ............... Slave  
Vernon Steele ................ King James  
Gene Alsace .................. Oliver Clark (Pirate)  
Henry Otho ................... David Sampson (Pirate)  
Wayne Castle ............... One-Legged Pirate  
Yola d'Avril ................... Girl in tavern  
David Thursby ........ Lookout on English ship  
     
     
     
     

Images on this page and pages two and three are from the film "Captain Blood," copyright Warner Bros.

 

 

 

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All original content is Marcia Jessen, 2014