Captain Blood

errol-flynn-in-captain-blood

Captain Blood, 1935, Warner Bros. Starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone. Directed by Michael Curtiz. B&W, 119 minutes.

In 17th century Great Britain, young, brash doctor Peter Blood (Errol Flynn) is called upon to save a man injured during the Monmouth Rebellion against King James II. Arrested for treason and sentenced to death, Blood is instead shipped off the West Indies to be sold into slavery.

Once he arrives at his fateful destination, he attracts the attention of Miss Arabella Bishop (Olivia de Havilland), niece of the island’s military commander. When he is rejected for purchase by her uncle, Arabella bids for Blood, and in short order owns the doctor. She later gains a measure of freedom for her only slave by having him tend to the medical care of high-ranking members of local society.

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Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland

The saucy Arabella has met her match in the brazen young doctor. She endures his resentment at his situation, a fair share of which is directed at her. Despite his animosity toward Miss Bishop, he is attracted to the young woman, and it is clear she shares those feelings.

His resentment is turned to action, as Blood and other slaves keep vigilant watch for opportunity, and grab hold of their chance for freedom when they overrun a Spanish man-of-war. They begin lives as pirates, and soon they are notorious in their ventures. When Arabella’s uncle, the Colonel Bishop, becomes governor, fate intervenes once again in the tormented relationship between pirate and lass.

Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone Captain Blood
Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone

It is famously reported that Flynn and de Havilland each had a crush on the other, hiding their feelings because neither imagined they would be reciprocated.  Olivia de Havilland spoke to those passions years later in a television interview when she described the “deep crush” she had on Flynn for three years, but expressed no regret that true romance eluded the famous pair. While they may have kept their emotions to themselves, they could not, nor would they have wanted to, hide the chemistry that lit up between them onscreen.

Future films made better use of that dynamic, as well as de Havilland’s acting skills, but Captain Blood is a fine vehicle for the impudent, virile character Flynn played so well. While he was not the first choice for the role, it launched his career, and made him the kind of movie matinée idol you no longer see in today’s crop of actors. Fans of the dashing actor will note he isn’t yet sporting his signature pencil-thin moustache, and while hardly of note today, his hair is, for the era, bad-boy long.

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Olivia de Havilland, Errol Flynn

Nominated for two Academy Awards, Best Picture and Best Sound Recording, the film also won significant write-in votes for Best Director, Best Score, and Best Adapted Screenplay. The score, written by internationally renowned composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, is stirring and a significant element in the dramatic nature of the story.

Captain Blood has a complex story line and it’s easy to lose track of what’s going on, but that hardly matters, as long as you remember the errant pirate is the true hero and all who are pulling for him are on the side of good and the future of mankind. As a swashbuckler and man of adventure, there is none better than Captain Blood.

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Mildred Pierce (1945)

Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce

Mildred Pierce, 1945, Warner Bros. Starring Joan Crawford, Jack Carson, Zachary Scott, Ann Blyth. Directed by Michael Curtiz. B&W, 111 minutes.

A sharp psychological drama that has had feminists debating the nature of its leading lady’s motivations and decisions from the day it was released, Mildred Pierce is as provocative a a mother/daughter tale as you’ll discover on film.

Set in sunny southern California, yet somehow dark in atmosphere and telling, this is the narrative of a woman who will sacrifice anything for her ever-ungrateful daughter. Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford) married young and has two girls, and as she explains it, this is the only life she knows. However, her husband Bert (Bruce Bennett) is out of work and apparently has an interest in another woman. After a particularly nasty fight one evening, he packs his bags and walks out, leaving Mildred alone to pay the bills.

Beyond the usual costs of keeping a home, Mildred has big dreams for her children that come with a price. She’s hired an expensive voice coach for her older daughter, Veda (Ann Blyth), and her younger girl, Kay (Jo Ann Marlowe) is enrolled in dance classes. What’s more, nothing will truly please self-absorbed Veda, yet Mildred is determined to give her everything she wants.

Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth
Joan Crawford, Ann Blyth

She turns to her friend Wally Fay (Jack Carson) for help with her dream of opening a restaurant. Wally finds a property owned by Monty Beragon (Zachary Scott) and arranges a deal with him that allows Mildred to open her new — and highly successful — place at a cost she can afford. Beragon, for his part, has fallen for Mildred.

What follows is a complex tale of confused relationships, a family’s sorrows and a woman’s choices in the face of losing odds in all she treasures.

Director Michael Curtiz had reluctantly agreed to Crawford’s unusual offer to do a screen test for the part after learning Barbara Stanwyck and several other actresses he sought wouldn’t be available. Despite his hesitation, that screen test quickly convinced him Crawford was the right choice, but tension remained between the two throughout production. Producer Jerry Wald often stepped in to mediate.

Not everyone had complaints about working with Crawford. Ann Blyth later recalled her as “the kindest, most helpful human being I’ve ever worked with. We remained friends for many years after the film. I never knew that other Joan Crawford that people wrote about.”

Ann Blyth, Zachary Scott
Ann Blyth, Zachary Scott

Crawford, whose career had been in a slump prior to this film, won the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for Mildred Pierce. The film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress in a Supporting Role (twice, for Eve Arden and Ann Blyth) Best Writing, Screenplay, and Best Cinematography, Black & White. (The Oscar for Best Picture that year went to The Lost Weekend, starring Ray Milland.)

After seeing the film, James M. Cain, author of the novel Mildred Pierce on which the film was based, sent Joan Crawford a signed first edition of his original book. The inscription read: “To Joan Crawford, who brought Mildred Pierce to life just as I had always hoped she would be, and who has my lifelong gratitude.”

Mildred’s role as wife and mother has long been debated by feminists, and analyzing it in that way, particularly in context of the times, is beyond the scope of this review.  Interpreting motives in fictional characters is a difficult thing to do when singular actions in film may take place simply to move a story forward. However, as a well-played, complex character from that era, it doesn’t get much better than Mildred Pierce.