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July 2011

Blackbeard The Pirate

cast: Robert Newton, Keith Andes, Linda Darnell, William Bendix, and Torin Thatcher

director: Raoul Walsh

94 minutes (PG) 1952
Odeon DVD Region 2

RATING: 6/10
review by Jim Steel and Emma Steel

Blackbeard The Pirate

Pirates, as a genre, had been drowning for a long time before the Pirates Of The Caribbean franchise threw it a life-line. Remember CutThroat Island, and Polanski's Pirates? The western may have become a rare beast, but it still always manages to throw us a stone-cold classic every few years. But pirates, on the whole, had merely left us with a few memories of Errol Flynn and Robert Louis Stevenson on weekend afternoons. The Jack Sparrow adventures may be flawed but they are, most of the time at least, great fun. How does a 60-year-old B-movie stand, in comparison? In the case of Blackbeard The Pirate, surprisingly well.

There are a high number of parallels with Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, still playing in cinemas when this DVD was released; there's Blackbeard, for a start, played in this version by Robert Newton as a more agile (well, more limbs for a start), evil version of his Long John Silver; a seedy thief-turned-policeman in Torin Thatcher's Sir Henry Morgan; a beautiful, worldly-wise pirate's daughter in Linda Darnell's Edina Mansfield; and minor characters who, with their headbands, resemble no-one as much as the 1980s-era Keith Richards. And it all takes place, of course, in the Caribbean.

Walsh, who never knowingly placed history before entertainment, had adapted C.S. Forester's Hornblower just the previous year and was in full flow by the time he got to Blackbeard. The action doesn't stop and the dialogue is dry and packed with wit. It's just as well that none of the ships have as many holes in them as the plot does, all the same, or it would have ended up a much shorter film than it is.

The story starts with Dr Robert Maynard (Keith Andes) about to row out to a ship when he's joined by Mansfield and her comedy lady-in-waiting (Irene Ryan). Mansfield's trying to run off with the captain of the ship since she doesn't fancy marrying Henry Morgan. She's also helped herself to Morgan's treasure. When the three reach the ship, after coming under fire from the shore, they discover that Blackbeard and his men have killed the original crew and taken control.

Our three arrivals are now prisoners but, despite this, Maynard has first to dig a bullet out of Blackbeard's neck while the gurning pirate who holds a gun on him secretly urges him to kill Blackbeard. And we're off: buried treasure, mutinies, prison breaks and castaways. It's cheap and cheerful, with the painted studio sets doing the bare minimum that they can get away with when pretending to be island scenery.

My resident pirate expert, eight-year-old Emma, brought a fresh eye to this antique pirate movie and, despite her initial reservations, was hooked by it, announcing at the end that "It was interesting and funny." We saw both films in the same weekend and decided that Ian McShane is a much more sinister Blackbeard than Robert Newton but, between you and me, Blackbeard The Pirate is a much more manageable length than Rob Marshall's modern marathon adventure when it comes to holding young attention spans.



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