(director: Frank Borzage; screenwriters: story by Aeneas MacKenzie/Herman Mankiewicz/George Worthing Yates; cinematographer: George Barnes; editor: Ralph Dawson; music: Hanns Eisler; cast: Maureen O’Hara (Contessa Francesca), Paul Henreid (Capt. Laurent Van Horn/Barracuda), Walter Slezak (Don Juan Alvarado), Binnie Barnes (Anne Bonney), John Emery (Mario Du Billar), Barton MacLane (Capt. Benjamin Black), J.M. Kerrigan (Pillery Gow), Fritz Leiber (Bishop), Nancy Gates (Lupita), Jack LaRue (Lt. Escobar), Mike Mazurki (Swaine); Runtime: 101; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Frank Borzage; RKO; 1945)
“A conventional pirate story that’s given a colorful treatment under Frank Borzage’s helmsmanship.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A conventional pirate story that’s given a colorful treatment under Frank Borzage’s helmsmanship. The movie never gets beyond being a routine swashbuckler and romantic melodrama, but through Borzage’s tongue-in-cheek treatment of the trite script (courtesy of Herman Mankiewicz and George Worthing Yates) it has some redeeming moments mainly thanks to Walter Slezak’s well-played villainous Spanish aristocrat role.

It was RKO’s first film in the three-color Technicolor process, and cinematographer George Barnes gives this seafaring yarn the lavish treatment by beautifully capturing the gorgeous locations, rich costumes and magnificent sets..

The Dutch pilgrim ship bound for the Carolinas and freedom for the immigrants hoping to live a peaceful and religious free life in the New World, get caught in a sea storm in the Caribbean and their wrecked ship lands in Cartagena, the island province of the despotic Spanish Viceroy Don Juan Alvarado (Walter Slezak). He places the Dutch pilgrims into indentured servitude and the ship’s captain, Laurent Van Horn (Paul Henreid), into the brig for attacking him upon hearing the news. Soon Laurent and his three fellow prisoners (including the giant played by Mike Mazurki, whose character is mute because his tongue was cut out), all innocent seafarers also incarcerated by the evil Alvarado, escape and become pirates. Five years go by and Laurent is now called Barracuda, the fearsome pirate who attacks only Spanish vessels.

Contessa Francesca (Maureen O’Hara) is the beautiful redheaded daughter of the Viceroy of Mexico, who has been promised to Alvarado in a marriage where neither party has met before. The bride-to-be is traveling with her maid Lupita and the bishop, who will perform the wedding ceremony. But Barracuda attacks and overwhelms her boat, and threatens to marry her forcibly as part of his booty and as an act of revenge against Alvarado. To save another ship the pirate is about to attack–the Contessa agrees to voluntarily marry the pirate with the bishop performing the ceremony–but only if he refrains from attacking the passing boat. The married couple land on Tortuga, a pirate colony used to fence their spoils. Barracuda’s old flame, Anne Bonney (Binnie Barnes), gets into a snit about the marriage and challenges the bride to a gun duel. The Barracuda uses his wits to avert a disaster for his bride, but the pirate “brotherhood” is displeased with his actions not to ransom the Contessa off for a big reward as is the custom. They jump the Barracuda and steal his ship with the Contessa and her party aboard, and make a deal with Alvarado for ransom money. But Alvarado double-crosses them. When the Contessa sees that the viceroy’s fat she makes a face and tells the bishop she’s already tied the knot with the hunky pirate and doesn’t want a divorce. The Barracuda takes another pirate’s ship, the Cobra, to sail to Cartagena, where he confronts Alvarado and rescues his bride. By this time they have both fallen madly in love each other.

Hey, by the way, does anyone remember those pilgrims enslaved and what happened to them? The movie just forgot about them.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”