on 4 December 2007
What a superb collection this is!
'Yankee Buccaneer' stars Jeff Chandler as a U.S. Navy commander who is ordered to disguise himself and his crew as pirates and to set sail under the skull and crossbones in an attempt to infiltrate a pirate community.
'Double Crossbones' features Donald O'Connor as a salesman in a shop selling jewellery and other fine items who is arrested when the proprietor is found to have stolen goods on the premises. On the way to prison he manages to escape along with old sea dog Will Geer and they both become pirates. Donald O'Connor has always reminded me of Danny Kaye. He could sing and dance, and his mannerisms were similar, although he did not have quite the same appeal. He sings one song here, but this movie is not a musical.
'Buccaneer's Girl' has the very attractive Yvonne De Carlo as a singer who falls for pirate Philip Friend. She sings three songs, but, again, this is not a musical.
Last but not least, 'Against All Flags' stars the legendary Errol Flynn as a government spy who is sent to infiltrate Anthony Quinn's pirate band and manages to woo the stunning Maureen O'Hara in the process.
All four movies are in glorious technicolor and complement each other very well. Jeff Chandler even does the narration at the beginning of 'Double Crossbones'. There is plenty of sword fighting, cannon firing and sinking of ships, but also romance and humour. All in all, great fun.
The sound and picture quality is excellent.
Universal's US NTSC 4-film DVD collection isn't top tier swashbuckling, but it adds up to a decent bit of plunder - no precious gems, but only one stale chocolate Doubloon.
By 1952 Errol Flynn's wicked wicked ways were starting to catch up with him but, a few shots where he's short of breath aside, he still manages to hide it pretty well in pirate romp Against All Flags. It's certainly not in the Captain Blood or Sea Hawk league, but it is an entertaining glorious Technicolor swashbuckler that has fun playing with Flynn's rakish image - when asked to explain trying to sneak away with a female captive he simply shrugs "Springtime?" - and delivers the goods in a tight 83 minutes. Flynn's not a proper pirate this time but a British naval officer pretending to be a mutineer to go undercover and stop the pirates of Libertatia ransacking the local shipping, wooing Maureen O'Hara's fiery ship owner Spitfire Stevens to memorise her map of the islands defences (conveniently located in her bedroom) and unsuccessfully trying to prevent Anthony Quinn's suspicious pirate chief from sacking the Moghul of India's ship and kidnapping his daughter. Frankly, as played by Alice Kelley, she's such an irritating simpering moron that you'd think the Moghul would be glad to see the back of her, but with every Englishman in India facing death if she isn't returned he has to somehow rescue her without incurring the wrath of O'Hara...
No, it's not the greatest plot in the world, but it zips along at a cracking pace, is lavishly produced and well cast (Mildred Natwick's in there as a sharp-tongued chaperone as well), the action decently handled - itself a surprise in a late Flynn film - and everyone plays it like they mean it and they're having a good time in the process. Thankfully this has a rather good transfer and also includes the original trailer, complete with Flynn breaking off a fight scene to address the audience, promising, among other things, "women with nothing on... their minds." It also includes another feature that Universal quickly cobbled together to take advantage of the sets while Flynn was recovering from a sprained ankle, Yankee Buccaneer with Jeff Chandler.
Showing its rushed production all too clearly, 1952's Yankee Buccaneer is a colourfully photographed but dull affair loosely based on a much more interesting true story that sees Jeff Chandler's bad tempered US Navy martinet locking horns with Scott Brady's junior officer when they're ordered to disguise their ship as a privateer to uncover the location of a pirate fleet. Aside from one convincing bit of shark wrestling and the obligatory storm sequence, little happens that's of interest even once Suzan Ball has bluffed her way aboard as a passenger with an unloaded gun: no sea battles, no piracy, only a brief glimpse of another ship and some damnable poor fencing in the last reel. A very young and barely recognisable David Janssen can be briefly glimpsed among the crew and Joseph Calleia adds a slight touch of class as the civilised villain, but this is uneventful and perfunctory stuff. No extras on the DVD, but a strikingly vivid transfer.
Buccaneer's Girl is an enjoyable example of the kind of hokum that studios used to knock out to keep their contract players busy and get more mileage out of sets and the odd bit of stock footage from more expensive pictures. Yvonne De Carlo is the singer-cum-stowaway aboard a ship captured by the dread pirate Baptiste (Philip Friend), who turns out to be part Jean Lafitte (even sharing his Gulf of Mexico hunting ground) and the Dread Pirate Roberts. Naturally he's really a Robin Hood of the high seas, only attacking the ships of evil Robert Douglas, who drove his father to an early grave and most of the other ship owners in New Orleans to ruin, putting the spoils into a fund to buy and outfit new ships for them. But on land Batiste is also Captain Kingston, the respectable fiancé of the governor's niece and charged with tracking down Baptiste, and all too aware that a stray word from De Carlo can send him to the gallows. Naturally he's far too charming to come up with the obvious solution to his problem - especially when he falls for her. Cue romantic complications and betrayals, devious plots, a catfight and a decently staged sea battle.
Hokum for sure, but played with some panache and wit even if it isn't a top drawer swashbuckler, there's enough going on to satisfy, even finding room for a few songs along the way (although De Carlo is `adopted' by Elsa Lanchester as a singer, it's clear that her school for genteel young ladies is something quite different, although her charges are more courtesans than doxies). De Carlo is a pleasing lead, sassy without being brassy, and the awfully well-spoken Friend is a likeable romantic foil with just enough of a mischievous glint in his eye even if Errol Flynn has nothing to fear from him, while most of the supporting cast do what's expected of them more than capably - especially Lanchester, who gets one memorable moment when she looks over De Carlo and clearly likes what she sees! Moving along at a brisk 76 minutes, it's a jolly enough diversion even if the end feels a bit rushed and we're deprived of he expected duel with the villain.
The DVD has a decent but not exceptional transfer with the original trailer as an extra.
Often erroneously referred to as a musical despite only having one genuine and rather lacklustre musical number where Donald O'Connor tries to raise money for his passage in a pirate tavern, Double Crossbones feels like a discarded Danny Kaye script that Universal picked up and gave first class production values and a second string cast. It's a handsome looking craft thanks to Maury Gertsman's vivid Technicolor lensing and Alexander Golitzen and Bernard Herzbrun's art direction, but the story's not much more than a skeleton for better jokes than it gets despite the presence of Abbott and Costello veterans John Grant (on additional writing duties and presumably responsible for incorporating A&C's "stand on the handkerchief" gag) and director Charles Barton. O'Connor's the innocent shopkeeper's dogsbody who finds himself mistaken for the Caribbean's most bloodthirsty pirate (something Jeff Chandler's opening narration tips us off to by going for the `most uses of the word bloody in a single minute' world record), with predictable results. Will Geer makes a surprisingly convincing seadog as O'Connor's sidekick while Helena Carter is an attractive romantic interest and the pirate captains are filled out by the likes of Charles McGraw, Alan Napier and Hope Emerson. It's a painless little nothing, but nothing you need to see. No extras.