Before recently watching Captain Blood I had never seen an Errol Flynn film in it’s entirety. I was, of course, familiar with the reputation Flynn had on screen. I had always been told that he was the undisputed king of the swashbucklers. Having spent the majority of my life with this knowledge and never having seen the man in action for myself, I decided to give Captain Blood a whirl. Fortunately the movie was streaming free through my Amazon Prime account, and I was able to fulfill the desire to see the old fashioned pirate movie with the push of a button.
The story follows Peter Blood (Flynn), a doctor who is wrongfully accused of treason against the crown, and is sold into slavery. He, along with his fellow slaves, escape and seize a pirate ship, and decide to turn to a life of piracy. Blood draws up a list of bylaws that are to be followed, laws protecting women and guaranteeing fair payment among his crew. Peter Blood comes off as a sympathetic hero, he kills only when necessary and lives by a strict code. However his brains make him the most nefarious pirate in the world; all the while displaying grotesque amounts of charm, wit, and intelligence.
Captain Blood is Errol Flynn’s first starring role, and it proves to be a showcase for his ability to manifest the adventurous spirit that continues to drive people to the theater to this day. This was the role that launched his career long stint as an icon in adventure. The first half of the movie is entertaining enough. We get to know Blood, we realize he is a man of morals, he’s passionate against injustice and he won’t back down. However, as soon as Peter Blood becomes Captain Blood, the entire film is taken up a notch. The adventure aspect of the movie is ramped up, and we see exactly what made Flynn so popular. The Captain is suave and sophisticated, while at the same time cut throat and ready to fight, displaying all the leadership aspects of his personality he pilages and plunders any ship that is unfortunate enough to cross his path. The horrors of his actual deed are drowned out by his ever present charming smile, and the flourish of his cutlass as he boards ship after ship.
This movie is the embodiment of what has become cliché in the pirate genre of films. But here’s the thing, cliches stem from a source, things work so well that they are repeated and repeated until it becomes expected in that particular genre. This movie is the origin of those expectations. Errol Flynn has become synonymous with pirate. The way he conducts himself, the dialogue he uses are all part of the romantic pirate lore we know and love. The nostalgia of watching such an old film with such familiar and fun elements is mixed with the modern expectations of what we know belongs in a pirate flick. While the original audience watched with bated breath as Flynn orders his crew to attack two other ships, we, as a modern audience, would expect nothing less, yet we are entertained all the more by Captain Blood’s gusto.
Surprisingly explosive battles between war ships are matched only by incredible sword play. Lives and limbs lie in the balance of the battles that are waged at sea. In a generation that is so familiar with Captain Jack Sparrow, it is somewhat refreshing to witness the roots of piracy in film through Errol Flynn’s Captain Peter Blood. The title of King of the Swashbucklers is not given away freely in this case, it is captured with cutlass and blunderbuss and takes no prisoners.