One of the oddest postscripts to Captain Blood, Errol Flynn's classic 1935 swashbuckler epic, is this Italian-French co-production, shot in Spain with an international cast, including 21 year old Sean Flynn, Errol's real son, who had a fleeting interest in screen acting before switching to photo journalism in the late sixties.
Basically a sequel of sorts, this follow-up to Casey Robinson's original script adaptation of Rafael Sabatini's novel adapted and expanded Mario Caiano and Arturo Rigel by (isn't that a mouthful?) has Robert Blood, tall and muscular like dad, getting a yearning for the sea instead of medical training. Seeing he's just as unbridled and over-zealous as his father, mother Arabella (Ann Todd, years past her glory roles like David Lean's Madeleine) gives in, and lets him join a merchant ship as a navigator.
While he leaves and learns his trade, the island's local magistrate decrees all slaves should stop dressing like civilized white folk and get back into their fetters. An abolitionist at heart, Arabella refuses, causing her servants to be carted off and destined for a more formal state of permanent indenture on a government vessel.
Robert, meanwhile has troubles of his own, as the merchant ship is quickly overtaken by a pirate vessel commanded by a rogue bearing scars inflicted by Robert's pop. Still bearing a grudge against Peter Blood, the meanie takes the ship's rum, the women for ransom, and young Robert as his own deck slave as payback for all those nicks and cuts and the emotional trauma that could easily be remedied by good litigation in a U.S. civil court had this bland pirate concoction taken place in the present.
The young Blood eventually wins the friendship of a crewman (we're not sure why), escapes and meets a former 'Bloodman' who apparently served under his father before going straight as a tavern owner. Recaptured again, Robert is ultimately saved by the Bloodman's facile plan of sneaking onto the pirate ship with former Bloodmen (wow, there's more!), and taking control of the vessel.
The real problem with the film in spite of its super-brief running time (albeit standard for voguish European pirate films during the sixties) is Tullio Demicheli's absolutely pedestrian direction, and an editing job that hacked a much longer re-release version.
The pacing is pretty economical and dispenses with a lot of unnecessary details as characters move between locations, but Demicheli had such a poor sense of continuity; the editors were stuck with bad camera setups for the dialogue and action scenes, making the film's editorial form schizophrenic; scenes either flow fast, or stumble as shots smash into downright ugly angles.
Demicheli's dual cinematographers captured some lovely widescreen compositions in spite of several poorly rendered day-for-night shots, but the director had no desire to neither move the camera nor engage in any montage in spite of having gorgeous locations, some elaborate interior sets, and a pair of functional sail ships.
The swordfights are mostly shot in wide angles, and the actors feel as though they needed an extra week of fencing lessons to choreograph duels at a more energetic and life-threatening pace.
Sean Flynn looks the part – he casts a very dashing form – but he also seemed a bit nervous in his first film role, undoubtedly due to his own awareness that audiences would compare his efforts to Errol Lynn's dynamic performance. Sean's nervousness works in his favour, but his sometimes tipsy /sly smile seems like a forced affectation meant to keep us believing the character will somehow morph into the charismatic shape of his father, which he don't.
Composer Gregorio García Segura had a tough challenge in writing a score that evoked the action and romance of a classic swashbuckling epic, but in deliberately distancing himself from the operatic style of Erick Wolfgang Korngold and writing material that sometimes goes against a scene's tempo, he hurts many of the film's duel scenes.
The music cues have also been through a vicious blender; as whole scenes were paired down to quicken the film's pacing; since no effort was made to adapt the score, cues abruptly stop or pop up and disappear in a jarring musical mulch.
The dialogue in the French-dubbed Italian version reviewed here is clear, but one gets a sense a common music and effects track was created only for scenes between heavy dialogue exchanges, resulting in dead spots around the character conversations. Segura's music fares a bit better in the final reel, but his action music often feels like culled stock cues from a B-movie serial, looped and stretched over long action montages as aural filler.
The film's strangest narrative shift occurs when young Blood returns home as a reluctant pirate captain, having rescued re-enslaved servants (including Moses, the family's head servant, played by John Kitzmiller), and ready to save his mum from the local magistrate – only to encounter a sudden volcanic eruption that creates an instant hurricane.
It's a completely ridiculous finale, but the film suddenly comes to life because the special effects team and second unit directors knew what made a good action montage, and while preposterous in every regard, it wraps up the story and closes the film with young Blood as a hero, poised to choose a career on the sea, or as a doctor, with a blonde babe (the inert Alessandra Panaro) at his side.
Flynn quick reteamed with the producers for The Sign of Zorro (aka Duel at the Rio Grande / Le signe de Zorro) in 1963, with Mario Caiano directing and Casey Robinson apparently doodling another story outline, and Segura once again scoring the final results. Flynn made a handful of action films before moving into photo-journalism, only to die in 1971, somewhere in Cambodia while covering the Vietnam war.
Aside from a few rare TV and film appearances, Ann Todd disappeared from the screen, whereas character actor John Kitzmiller would gain a bit of immortality as Quarrel in the first James Bond film, Dr. No, and in his final role as Uncle Tom in the 1965 German production, Onkel Toms Hütte.
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan