Rated: TV-G (TV rating)
Length: 119 min.
Age: 6 and up (more for complex plot and slow pace at start)
Scary factor/Violence: slaves are beaten, and one is branded as punishment (not graphic – offscreen); many battle scenes, but generally bloodless; one big swordfight on beach, but not graphic or disturbing
Sex: scene in which pirates party in a brothel/bar is pretty harmless
Other Bad Behaviour: fair amount of boozing, especially among the naughtier French pirates
Interests: pirates, sailing ships, history, old movies
Next: Treasure Island, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Sea Hawk
After a failed rebellion in Britain, Doctor Peter Blood is falsely charged with treason and banished to Jamaica as a slave. There he catches the eye of the governor’s daughter Arabella but also of the cruel Colonel Bishop, who runs his plantation on slave labour. When Spanish ships attack the city, Peter and his friends steal a ship and escape. After some success as pirates they rescue Arabella from competing French buccaneers and return her to Port Royal, now under the control of France. Discovering that England has a new king – one they like – Flynn and his men jubilantly re-enter the service of England and defeat the enemy.
I was looking for pirate fare for the very young when I dug up this old movie. The biggest drawback is how long it takes for them to become pirates! A lot of time is spent in showing that our heroes are good guys forced by extreme circumstances into becoming pirates – and even then they are a pirate band with a code of ethics. (In 1935 people were still rather uncomfortable with the idea of having lawless criminals as heroes – a qualm that modern audiences do not share.)
Be aware that the film is lacking in most of the classic, well-known pirate clichés: there are no one-legged pirates, no black hat with skull and crossbones, no eyepatches, no parrots, no “arrr”. (For all of these go directly to Disney’s “Treasure Island”, 1950.)
If you can wait it out (or fast forward to it), when they finally do seize a ship and set out for parts unknown, it is rather thrilling. The sight of men dashing about an enormous ship, climbing the rigging, etc, is one of the reasons we love pirate movies! There is a little black humour involved here – the men get extra pay if they suffer the loss of a limb. Of course the resident buffoonish sidekick shoots off a toe to get a little extra silver, but the captain doesn’t fall for that old trick.
There is a fair amount of drinking throughout. In their new life as pirates they are seen partying in a brothel – though it simply looks like a pub, all the women remain clothed and a mild kiss is about as provocative as it gets. Captain Blood himself refuses a prostitute he wins in a card game. All this is treated in high Hollywood style, in that it isn’t graphic and only mildly suggestive, however if this kind of content is worrisome to you… then you’re probably bothered by nearly every pirate movie out there too and should try steering your youngsters toward more wholesome British Navy adventures.
Biggest draw in this film is the dashing Errol Flynn. Flynn was an unknown Australian actor when cast for this film, but he displays megawatts of star power in his American movie debut. I mean, the guy defined “dashing” in Hollywood thereafter, scripts to this day describe a hero in the classic style as “an Errol Flynn type”. Olivia de Havilland was also a young new star but fills her role of Arabella with energy and spunk. Flynn and de Havilland eventually made nine movies together. Basil Rathbone plays a foppish French pirate and he and Flynn duel to the death (Rathbone’s), a swordfight that would be reprised in an even grander fashion in “The Adventures of Robin Hood” just three years later.
The violence is all in the style of the era: bloodless sword fights, people falling off ships into the water, the boom of cannon. A ship burns down. In the early scenes a slave is whipped and another is branded on the cheek (occurs offscreen, but scene may be skipped by the squeamish).
In conclusion: rated 6+ because of complicated plot and backstory, otherwise 4 or 5 for exciting bits. Old-fashioned bloodless violence and some necessary naughty pirate behaviour.