Unless you’re a huge Errol Flynn fan, Captain Blood is not the first Flynn film I would recommend watching. Flynn’s body of work, including The Sea Hawk, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Dive Bomber and Gentleman Jim show his tremendous versatility as an actor. Captain Blood was a swashbuckling action adventure movie that offered people an escape from the Depression. The 1935 movie, which was directed by Michael Curtiz, involves pirates, sword fights, ship battles, and of course, a beautiful damsel in distress. The reason I wanted to review this film is that it catapulted the career of a little-known Australian actor and turned him into one of the most iconic Hollywood stars of all time. The movie posters speaks for themselves.
Before Captain Blood, Errol Flynn had only small parts in movies, and he was married to an actress named Lili Damita (Sean Flynn’s mother). The role of Captain Blood was originally slated for Robert Donat, but he turned down the part, paving the way for Flynn. The film also starred Olivia de Havilland as Arabella Bishop and Basil Rathbone as the conniving pirate Levasseur. Both actors would go on to film more movies with Flynn. In fact, de Havilland and Flynn made eight movies together. The chemistry between them was so intense that many thought they were having an affair, a rumor de Havilland refuted.
The plot for Captain Blood is fraught with betrayal and greed. The story takes place in the 1600’s during the height of piracy. Dr. Peter Blood (Flynn) is arrested and charged with treason against the British crown when he gives medical attention to a patron who participated in the Monmouth Rebellion. King James II sends Blood along with many other rebels to the West Indies to be sold into slavery. Arabella Bishop (de Havilland), who is the niece of the military commander of Port Royal purchases Blood and suggests that he serve as a physician to the governor. From the first moment Bishop and Blood meet, the chemistry is so strong that it is palpable. However, Blood is bound as a slave, and he is determined to free himself and the other rebels. Throughout the movie, Blood and Bishops’ feelings for each other are put to the test. In order for Blood and his men to survive they embrace piracy, which pits them against the British crown as well as Bishops’ family.
Blood and his men endure many obstacles. One of the most memorable fights is between Blood and Captain Levasseur (Rathbone). Rathbone was actually a skilled swordsman, and Flynn was exceptionally graceful and could handle the physical demands of the role. The final ship battle is also noteworthy because some of those shots were taken from the 1924 version of The Sea Hawk. Miniatures and process shots were also used to create the epic sea battle.
It is not very often that a major studio hires lesser-known actors to play lead roles, but in this case Warner Bros Pictures made cinematic history. In addition to being a commercial success, the film made nineteen-year-old de Havilland and Flynn two of Hollywood’s biggest stars. Because Flynn was so attractive and suave, his looks often overshadowed his acting. Yet, Flynn was an incredible actor. Though Captain Blood doesn’t show the breadth of his talent, Flynn had the charisma and a way of commanding the scene.
People who love and have loved Errol Flynn are huge fans of Captain Blood. Films are like time capsules. We can go back at any time and watch Flynn and de Havilland at the very beginning of their careers when they were both just young actors with a lot of promise. The 1935 black and white film is entertaining and it was paired with an incredible symphonic music score. Austrian composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold composed and arranged the music in a mere three weeks. Due to the time constraints, he used some material from Franz Liszt’s symphonies, so Korngold only took credit for the arrangement of the music.
Many movies, even great ones, have become forgotten and lost just from the sheer number of films that Hollywood has produced. Most likely Captain Blood will not suffer from that fate because of all the fans that fell in love with the actors in this film. Because I was a child of the nineties, I knew who Errol Flynn was but I was not familiar with his movies. Years later, when my parents started their movie poster museum, I had the honor of meeting Errol Flynn’s daughter, Rory. She was incredibly kind and she spent one evening at my parent’s gallery sharing great stories about her father. Like her father, Rory has acted and she is also a writer and photographer. In 2006 she published The Baron of Mulholland: A Daughter Remembers Errol Flynn. I’m grateful to both Rory and my mother for exposing me to Errol Flynn’s work and sharing stories about him. Errol Flynn had a zest for life and it showed in his acting. He was one of Hollywood’s greatest icons and the world will not be the same without him.