Or The Eagle Has Landed.....
Out of Hammer Film Productions, The Devil-Ship Pirates is directed by Don Sharp and written by Jimmy Sangster. Filmed in Eastman Colour and Megascope, it stars Christopher Lee, John Cairney, Barry Warren, Suzanne Farmer, Natasha Pyne, Andrew Keir, Philip Latham and Michael Ripper. Music is by Gary Hughes and cinematography by Michael Reed.
July 1588. In the English Channel the British Fleet has been battling for two days against the mighty Spanish Armada.....
Badly damaged, with half their crews killed, the ships of Spain battle their way up the Channel. And in the thickest part of the fighting is one of the smallest Spanish ships - the licensed privateer Diablo.
OK, so it's practically a landlocked pirate film, with the water antics confined to the running a ground of the Diablo ship up some English estuary. Yet this should not detract from the good old swashbuckling fun available in this Hammer pirate adventure. Premise basically sees Christopher Lee's band of pirates take control of a remote English village by the sea, they achieve this by telling them that Spain has triumphed in the war and Blighty is under Spanish rule. With most of the village men out fighting the war, there are only a few English guys around and the village is mostly populated by ladies. Some OF the village citizens are far from enamoured with the Spaniards being in control, others are a bit more compliant. Something's going to give if the truth will out.
With sets used from The Scarlet Blade the previous year, production value is hardly high. But as is often the case with Hammer, you can't really tell as the film is vibrant in colour and costuming. Great cast assembled as well. Lee hardly stretches himself but is most enjoyable to watch swishing a blade and generally being a miserable tyrant. Around Lee are a roll call of stoic Hammer performers, with Ripper (getting a meatier role than usual), Keir, Cairney, Warren and Farmer leaving telling marks. The script slips in some cynicism via a couple of weasel village elders, and there's class distinction in here as well, while much heroic interest is garnered by having Cairney's resistance leader as being lame in one arm on account of a previous scuffle with the Spanish. A true hero!
Much of the budget went on the construction of The Diablo ship. It was a ship that went down in Hammer folklore as a pain in the derrière. Such was the bad craftsmanship it often caused accidents, while it also capsized and cost the production a number of cameras and equipment. For the finale in the film the ship is seen ablaze, that's real, they gladly burnt it! But it's a great prop and is well used by Sharp. The director also handles his action sequences well enough, with three solid sword fights of note, one of which is played out in and around a marshy bog. But any expectation of Lee and co being Tyrone Power like will only lead to disappointment. Elsewhere, Reed's Eastman Colour photography is mostly rich and vibrant, though a bit lifeless around the water scenes and Hughes scores it plainly with standard Hammer strains.
It has many flaws, obviously for a low budgeted Hammer yarn; for one thing the Spanish invaders are more British than the villagers! But this is still very good genre film making, not a dull moment to be had in what is a classic Sunday afternoon adventure. 7/10