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Captain Blood (1935)

Cover of "Captain Blood"

It’s easy to see where Pirates of the Caribbean (the film not the ride) got their inspiration; from Errol Flynn and Captain Blood.  I’m not a fan of pirate adventure films but I wanted a better grasp of Flynn’s background considering the rabid fan base that got him the win in the 1930s Leading Man poll.  The film is corny at times but this adventure film isn’t all about the buckling being swashed, it’s about the acting.  I think I might be falling in love with Errol Flynn and we get another film showcasing Olivia de Havilland who looks COMPLETELY different from when I saw The Heiress.  It’s a bit longer than I’d have liked but this was a surprising film for me to love.

Peter Blood (Flynn) is a doctor falsely convicted of treason during the Monmouth Rebellion.  Sent to be a slave in the Americas, Blood is bought by the beautiful Arabella Bishop (de Havilland).  When Blood escapes he takes to the high seas and becomes Captain Blood, forced to save Arabella when her ship sinks and she’s kidnapped.

The key element of Captain Blood is the adventure and the film delivers.  I did get a bit bored with all the time spent on the ship mainly because my DVD had a dark hue to it and I couldn’t always see what was happening.  The film must be praised for its sword fights though.  The showdown between Blood and Levassuer (Basil Rathbone) is exquisite hearkening back to my first viewing of The Princess Bride.  You feel as the swords meet that lives are truly in danger and these men aren’t relying on stunt doubles (although they could have been and I wouldn’t have known any different).

What worked best for me was the acting.  I’ve seen Flynn in one other film, Elizabeth and Essex where he was a decent Earl of Essex but not a performance that made me jump up from my seat.  Captain Blood boasts the performance I was looking for.  Flynn is gorgeous in this film, more so than I thought in Essex.  Any actor who has rocked a great head of hair, tight pants, and a flowy shirt in a film stole from Flynn.   The character of Blood is the perfect man for any woman.  He’s decent (a doctor for crying out loud), has strong convictions of right and wrong, yet has that lovable rouge quality (he’s one of the few actors I know that makes paying for the company of women downright adorable).  He’s an expert flirt  able to charm even the most crotchety of old ladies.  Within Captain Blood and Flynn’s performance you can find the definition of the “devil-may-care” attitude.  You trust that Blood will save Arabella, even if he is a doctor with the last name Blood (I would have changed that on my medical certificate).  Blood is always two steps ahead of those who seek to undo him.  When two men try to tell the governor that Blood is planning to escape, Blood lets them know, nicely, that the governor would be believe him because he helped him with a medical problem ending in the best line of the movie “Hi ho for the governor’s foot.”

Olivia de Havilland surprised me as well as the lovely Arabella.  Arabella Bishop is an entirely different role and personality for de Havilland than what I saw of her in The Heiress.  For starters she looks completely different (she was only 19 when she did this) but there’s a refreshing quality to her I didn’t see before.  She’s clever, sweet, and her giggle is infectious especially when she starts to bid on Blood purely to annoy him.  The romance that blossoms between Blood and Arabella actually blossoms, they don’t speak for 30 second and immediately fall in love, it builds over the entire length of the movie, another refreshing thing that I feel has been lost in modern films.  They do have the typical love/hate relationship but it felt earned by the end.  The early scenes of them together, with Blood being the slave, does boast a unique juxtaposition in the ideals of buying men and women.

Captain Blood isn’t a perfect movie but the main issues I had were nitpicks.  I described above the dark quality of my DVD which ruined a few of the high seas moments.  I also felt the use of on-screen text grew increasingly annoying relying on long, scrawling messages to tell me what I already known or don’t need to know to enjoy the film.  We see the Spanish looting and pillaging the town so does the audience really need text telling us “The Spanish started looting and pillaging?”  Also, I watch a lot of movies so I’ve developed an ear for accents and while Flynn is Australian (Tasmanian to be exact), he’s playing an Irishman.  Now I’ve seen quite a few movies with Irish actors (Ruth over at FlixChatter can attest to this) so Flynn’s accent is laughable.  It’s not that it’s over the top, it’s a standard British accent with no hint of an Irish inflection.  At certain points even said British accent is so light I just assumed he had acclimated to being an American in 60 seconds.  Again, these are nitpicks and didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the movie.

Captain Blood is adventure on the high seas, daring pirates, beautiful men and women, and sword fighting.  It’s what films like The Princess Bride and Pirates of the Caribbean borrow heavily from so you’ll ultra cool if you know it.  Flynn and de Havilland are a fun couple to root for.  I’m interested in seeing if I like Adventures of Robin Hood better or not.

Grade: B-

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Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

8 thoughts on “Captain Blood (1935) Leave a comment

  1. I seriously love this movie, even though the pirate genre isn’t generally my favorite. But this one is just so much fun. And the Flynn-de Havilland chemistry is so good that it’s easy to see why Warner Bros. chose to pair them in seven more films. From your comments, I’d guess that you’d probably like The Adventures of Robin Hood better, as it has a little more finesse. But I honestly can’t choose which I like more.

    • I agree, the pirate genre doesn’t always get me but I love the chemistry of the acting which really elevated it. I’ve heard Robin Hood is kind of corny but I’m intrigued to see Flynn in something else. Thanks for reading!

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