(director: Rudolphe Mate; screenwriter: Filippo Sanjust; cinematographer: Giulio Gianini; editor: Franco Fraticelli; music: Franco Mannino; cast: Rod Taylor (Sir Francis Drake), Keith Michell (Malcolm Marsh), Irene Worth (Queen Eizabeth smerI), Hedy Vessel (Arabella Ducleau), Anthony Dawson (Lord Burleigh), Basil Dignam (Sir Francis Walsingham), Esmeralda Ruspoli (Mary of Scotland), Gianni Cajafa (Tom Moon), Umberto Raho (King Philip II), Rossella D’Aquino (Potato), Terence Hill, Mario Girotti (Babington); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Paolo Moffa; TCM/MGM; 1962-Italy-in English)


Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This was the final film of Rudolphe Mate (“When Worlds Collide”/”D.O.A.”), the Polish-born Hollywood director, who was in decline by the end of his long career. The former cinematographer was of Hungarian heritage. He made a few great films in his heyday…but this schlocky costume drama, in lush CinemaScope, is not one of them. Mate’s movie career began in Germany in the 1920s, in 1932 he worked on Carl Theodor Dreyer’s classic Vampyr. In 1934, he moved to Hollywood.

Writer Filippo Sanjust scripts the pirate/swashbuckler story as if a dizzy history lesson for juveniles.

The Italian production was filmed mostly in the studio in Rome, and at a few other locations in Italy.

In 1577, in Plymouth, England, naval commander . Francis Drake (Rod Taylor, Australian actor) gets a map of where England’s main foe, the Spaniards, keep their gold stored in seven ports in the New World
. Drake becomes a pirate on the high seas and promises to share the booty with the Queen so she can fund the navy. The joke here is the Queen doesn’t approve of the piracy openly but in private welcomes her cut of the gold Drake steals.

The other big joke is how the Queen puts off signing the treaty offer from Spain’s ruler, King Philip II (Umberto Raho), by wanting to further study it while in reality waiting for Drake’s safe return with the gold.

Drake’s loyal friend Malcolm Marsh sticks by him through thick and thin, as they get into numerous adventures before returning home after three years at sea, with all the gold from the seven locations where the gold is either stored in mines or in the Spanish galleons.

Upon his return to England, Drake is knighted while Marsh learns his beautiful French lady-in-waiting, Arabella (Edy Vessel), is betroth to the English Lord Burleigh (Anthony Dawson) who will turn out to be a spy for the Spanish. Burleigh is planning with his cohorts to assassinate the Queen, and is using the innocent Arabella to unwittingly get involved in the plot that will make the imprisoned Mary of Scotland (Esmeralda Ruspoli) the next English Queen after Elizabeth is killed.

After the assassination plot is thwarted by Drake, in 1588 he traps the attacking Spanish Armada in the English port and destroys it before it can go onto Calais. Thereafter Sir Francis sets out on his own on the high seas for more adventures.

The American stage actress Irene Worth gives a flawless regal performance, while Rod Taylor gives a pleasing muscular one. But despite a few bright spots, the film was never believable and its naval fights using special effects to enlarge the miniature boats used in battle seemed hokey.

It was a box-office hit at the time of its release for MGM.

REVIEWED ON 1/15/2024  GRADE: C+