(director: Anthony Quinn; screenwriters: novel Lafitte the Pirate by Lyle Saxon/1938 screenplay by Harold Lamb/C. Gardner Sullivan/Jesse Lasky Jr./Jeanne McPherson/Edwin Justus Mayer; cinematographer: Loyal Griggs; editor: Archie Marshek; music: Elmer Bernstein; cast: Yul Brynner (Jean Lafitte), Charlton Heston (General Andrew Jackson), Inger Stevens (Annette Claiborne), E.G. Marshall (William Claiborne), Henry Hull (Ezra Peavey), Lorne Greene (Mercier), Charles Boyer (Dominque Yu), Woody Srode (Toro), Claire Bloom (Bonnie Brown), Robert F. Simon (Captain Brown); Runtime: 121; MPAA Rating:NR; producer: Henry Wilcoxon; Olive Films; 1958)
“A dull misfire.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Anthony Quinn (“Rock Stars”/”King of the Streets”/”Portrait in Black”), the son-in-law of Cecil B. DeMille, in his debut as a director, flatly helms this period costume swashbuckler, a pic he was reluctant to direct but was coerced to by his control-freak too sick to direct father-in-law, who wanted to supervise the film from above and needed a director who would allow him to. It’s a weak remake of the DeMille directed 1938 b/w version that starred Fredric March as the notorious French pirate. Its Technicolor is super and the lavish production values are grand, but this DeMille controlled production, his last film, is a dull misfire. Charlton Heston has no fire in his belly playing the fierce General Andrew Jackson; Yul Brynner looks foolish in a wig and seems way too noble a character as he plays the scoundrel pirate Jean Lafitte; Charles Boyer seems as if he’s in the wrong pic as a world-weary classy pirate, and Inger Stevens is miscast as the governor’s daughter who romances Lafitte. The action sequences, shot in the studio, are uneven, with the highlight being the Battle of New Orleans climax sequence, which was based on the 1815 painting “Battle of New Orleans” by Herbert Morton Stoops. Furthermore its bogus history lesson is filled with inaccuracies throughout, such as it was not the squirrel-hunting ragtag southern army of Jackson that primarily stopped the Brits but cannon firepower.
It’s one of the least filmed American wars and one of the least known, and it’s too bad it fails to be either that enlightening or entertaining. You are better off reading a good history book if you want the facts (I would recommend “1812: The War That Forged a Nation” by Walter R. Borneman), as the film is filled with too many minor errors to be taken that seriously. The chatty script, by the 1938 movie writers and a team of new writers that include Bernice Mosk, Jesse L. Lasky Jr., and Jeanie Macpherson, is based on the novel “Lafitte the Pirate” by Lyle Saxon. The weak screenplay and inexperienced directing keeps things slow moving, somewhat suffocating and stodgy.
When Washington had been burned to the ground by the British, President Madison orders the backwoods General Jackson (Charlton Heston) to defend New Orleans from further British attack. The problem is the gentleman pirate Jean Lafitte (Yul Brynner) controls the bayous, the only safe approach into the city and it’s uncertain where his loyalties lie. Jackson threatens to hang the pirate rather than bargain with the scalawag, whose men brazenly sell their stolen goods openly in Barataria. In the meantime the Louisiana Governor (E.G. Marshall), William Claiborne’s pretty daughter Annette (Inger Stevens), is having an affair with the pirate, which causes him to stop attacking American ships. Lafitte’s rival, Captain Brown (Robert F. Simon), has a fiery daughter Bonnie (Claire Bloom) who can’t decide if she loves or hates Lafitte. Things heat up when British warships come on the scene and offer Lafitte a generous deal to side with them. The tension mounts as we wonder on whose side will the untrustworthy pirate side with, as Jackson decides to offer a pardon for him and his men if the pirate fights on his side. I had trouble staying awake while Lafitte dithers with his decision. In reality the pirate did receive a pardon for all actions prior to January 8, 1815 but he refused to change his pirate ways (that was not mentioned in the film, as the film falsely tells us that after keeping his end of the bargain during the war he’s given a one-hour head start to escape Jackson). But to the film’s credit, it was spot-on in letting us know the war was an important part of American history and it rightfully apprised us of how much of a role the bayous played in the war (but failed to show it on screen).
It should be noted that plans to film it as a musical were scrapped, which would have been something else if carried out.
REVIEWED ON 6/28/2014 GRADE: C https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/