Sunday, April 26, 2009

Another star is born

TCM is airing the 1935 movie Captain Blood at 9:45 AM ET on April 27. The film is best known as the movie that made Errol Flynn a star, but it's quite good in its own right.

Flynn stars as Peter Blood, a doctor in England. There's a group of rebels going around England, and when one of them is wounded and Blood is the only doctor available, he considers it his duty under the Hippocratic Oath to treat the man, even though he is a rebel. For this, Blood is arrested and sent to prison along with several of the rebels. They're supposed to be executed, but get a "reprieve", in the form of forced labor in the Caribbean colony of Jamaica, which was not the vacation resort, or the place for high-quality ganja, that it is today.

Simply having the men be forced laborers wouldn't make for much of a movie, so you know they're eventually going to escape. In order to make an escape, though, Blood has to win the confidence of his captors, which he does by healing the colonial governor's (Lionel Atwill) foot. Meeting the colonial governor is good for the doctor, but even better is meeting the governor's daughter, played by the lovely Olivia de Havilland. Naturally, the doctor and the girl are going to fall in love: despite the overall high quality of the movie, it does hew to some of Hollywood's more predictable plot lines. After escaping, Blood and his men become pirates, leading to a confrontation with French ship captain Basil Rathbone, and the eventual final confrotation including Flynn's swordfighting that made him the new Hollywood swashbuckler.

Flynn is charismatic in his first big role. It's not his first movie; he had previously played a murder victim with a very brief appearance in the Perry Mason movie The Case of the Curious Bride. But because he hadn't done anything important before, even in supporting roles, Warner Brothers took a big risk in casting him; one that paid off. De Havilland is fine as the love interest, and she and Flynn would go on to make eight more movies together. Still, she's not the most important part of the movie, which still would have been good even without a love angle. There's a supporting cast with some well-known names, including Guy Kibbee as one of Flynn's men, and Donald Meek and J. Carrol Naish. Fortunately, Captain Blood is also available on DVD.

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