CRIMSON PIRATE, THE
(director: Robert Siodmak; screenwriter: Roland Kibbee; cinematographer: Otto Heller; editor: Jack Harris; music: William Alywyn; cast: Burt Lancaster (Capt. Vallo), Nick Cravat (Ojo), Eva Bartok (Consuelo), Torin Thatcher| (Humble Bellows), James Hayter (Prof. Elihu Prudence), Lesley Bradley (Baron José Gruda), Margot Grahame (Bianca), Noel Purcell (Pablo Murphy), Frank Pettingill (Colonel), Dana Wynter (La Signorita), Frederick Leister (Sebastian, rebel leader El Libre), Eliot Makeham (Governor), Christopher Lee (Joseph, Attaché); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Harold Hecht; Warner Bros.; 1952-USA/UK)
“A pirate film to treasure.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A light-hearted classic adventure film, one of the best ever, is filled with physical comedy and cartoonish action and a swashbuckling fast pace. It’s handsomely directed as a spoof of the serious Hollywood pirate films of the 1930s and 1940s by the talented German immigrant Robert Siodmak (“The Spiral Staircase”/”Son of Dracula”). He gets not credited help from Burt Lancaster, who filmed the fiery climax after clashing with the director over his original version.
The sea worthy script by Roland Kibbee pleases with many plot intrigues from prison breaks to Lancaster in drag to Naval battles at sea. It can be enjoyed as a cross between a Marx Brothers and Douglas Fairbanks film. Meanwhile Lancaster is at his smiling and acrobatic best as the bold and joyous pirate, who graces the screen with his dynamic partner in-step with him, the tiny but energetic mute lieutenant, Ojo, as brilliantly played as a Harpo Marx character by Nick Cravat (Nick’s a former circus acrobat). Both actors fill the screen as if a circus team, acting with the greatest of ease, as they help make this a pirate film to treasure.
In the Caribbean Seas, in the 18th century, the spirited Capt. Vallo (Burt Lancaster), known as the “Crimson Pirate,” gets the better of a Spanish galleon and captures it. It’s part of the British navy, carrying a rich supply of guns to the Caribbean Isle of Cobra for the ruling British troops to use to smash a native rebellion in the fishing village of the rebel leader El Libre (Frederick Leister). Vallo places his 20 pirates in position to capture the ship’s 200 Brit sailors and the on board passenger, the wily king’s emissary, Baron Gruda (Lesley Bradley), who is commissioned to capture all the rebellion leaders.
Vallo then plans to first make money by selling the arms to the rebels and to then betray the rebels to Gruda for even more profit. When Vallo meets the rebels, he finds that El Libre is held as a prisoner on the nearby island of San Perro and so hatches a plan to rescue him. After the daring rescue, Vallo works his unethical but pirate-worthy deal. But Vallo’s plan first becomes upset when his testy first mate Bellows (Torin Thatcher) causes a mutiny and later when Vallo falls for the rebel leader’s feisty daughter Consuelo (Eva Bartok) and his new love will induce him to seek justice for her people by jettisoning his own codes of conduct for being a pirate.
The high-budget film was made in a lush Technicolor, making it a great watch.
From the opening scene, where Burt swings from sail to sail and talks to the camera saying “Ask no questions, believe only what you see … No, believe only half of what you see,” we should know not to take things too seriously. By the climax Vallo is joined by the genius rebel scientist, Prof. Elihu Prudence (James Hayter), who invents a nitroglycerin bomb and creates a hot-air balloon and flamethrowers, which are used to attack the defenders of the unjust occupying regime and bring them down with the help of science (it’s oddly still a pirate film in the end, even if paying homage to knowledge, as the professor says: “science has learned that nothing is impossible”).
REVIEWED ON 3/28/2020 GRADE: A