Saturday, September 19, 2009

Alright m'hearties, follow me!

Warning: I went a little crazy on the photos this time.

Okay, time for some comparisons and contrasts! Every year, pretty much without fail, I forget about National Talk Like A Pirate Day, which is tomorrow, September 19, until September 20. In an effort to avoid forgetting this strange holiday, I wanted to talk about pirates. Now, I live in St. Augustine currently. It's a beautiful town, full of rich history and lovely architecture, and many touristy trappings - not the least of which is piratey stuff. We have pirate tours, pirate tour guides, pirate shops, pirate bed and breakfasts and it gets a little ridiculous. My brother once mentioned that pirates got the best rewritten history: they were not the awesome, swashbuckling Robin Hoods we consider them today. They were, in fact, quite appalling and not at all glamorous. However, it's funner to give them that glamorous remake and, as a culture, we've been doing this for quite a while. So, this week, I'm going to return to my compare/contrast segment with:

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) and Captain Blood (1935).

Most people are familiar with the Disney pirates movie starring Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom, and Kiera Knightley. It spawned 2 sequels (I've heard talk of a 3rd), made Depp's Captain Jack Sparrow an iconic character, won Depp an Oscar nod for the role, and enabled to Disney to make pirates a proper opposite for their current Princess themes. I am a huge fan of the first film in the Pirates series, although I'm not terribly crazy about the sequels. It's a fresh, funny adventure-romance on the high seas and, as a long-time fan of Captain Blood, I find something familiar in it.

Now, a brief background on Captain Blood. It starred Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland in their first roles together, with director Michael Curtiz at the helm. This was Flynn's breakthrough film and it launched him into stardom. His pairing with Olivia de Havilland was repeated several times in his career as well and their chemistry is undeniable. The film is a funny, chilling adventure-romance on the high seas... oh! Sound familiar? Okay, now for the similarities:
- Chivalric pirates. As I mentioned before, I'm pretty certain pirates were not quite the noble rascals we like to believe, but it's fun to pretend. Peter Blood (Flynn) is not a pirate by choice but by necessity, an outlaw in England and a slave in the New World. When a slave, he falls in love with the beautiful Arabella Bishop (de Havilland) and though he believes he can never earn her love, he strives to earn her approval. Thus, when confined to a life of piracy, he composes a strict code for his men, forbidding the molestation of women, unfair distribution of treasure, and drunkenness when on duty (among many other things). It is made clear in the film that these rules are very unusual for pirate crews. Captain Levasseur (Basil Rathbone), Peter's piratic foil, criticizes Peter's "severe articles." However, we like Peter's unusual methods, and as a conscience-driven pirate he gains our admiration. Likewise in Pirates of the Caribbean, Jack Sparrow and Will Turner (Bloom) surprise their audience and gain their respect as they rescue the fair maid, Elizabeth Swann (Knightley) and diligently obey the Pirates' Code.

- Location, location. Okay, so I realize that both of these movies take place in the Caribbean and, as such, the odds are greater that they'll take place at the same location, but every time I show someone Captain Blood for the first time, they get all excited about the mention of Port Royal and Tortuga because - hey! That's from Pirates of the Caribbean. Now, Port Royal is a town in Jamaica and Tortuga can be found on Haiti, so it makes perfect sense that they be used in films set in the Caribbean. However, I often wonder at the coincidence because there are many locations in the Caribbean in which to set a piratic film, which is why I make note of the fact that the makers of Pirates happened to use two major places in Captain Blood.

- Governors' female relations. Elizabeth Swann is the daughter of the Governor in Port Royal and Arabella Bishop is (later in the film) the niece of the Governor in Port Royal. I would say the Governor of Jamaica except I'm not sure how many governors were employed on each island - one? two? Anyway, the relationships of these women to the governors in Jamaica play crucial points in the two films. In Pirates, Elizabeth's fear that the pirates will take her hostage because she is the Governor's daughter causes her to lie and say that her name is Elizabeth Turner - which then causes the major conflict of the movie. In Captain Blood, Levasseur's band of pirates actually do take Arabella as hostage because she is the niece of the Governor of Jamaica and his impure intentions for her cause Peter Blood to fight for her, and enable him to take her aboard his ship. I think there is significance in the choices for the romantic interests. In a way, the daughters and nieces of the governors on the islands were a sort of royalty. They had slaves, fine clothes, and were probably enjoyed a respectable footing in English society. We all love a good Robin Hood story and the idea of a good-hearted rogue falling in love with a noble lady warms our hearts. And, thus, to see Peter, a doctor-turned-slave-turned-pirate, end up with the lofty Arabella and Will, a lowly blacksmith-turned-pirate, end up with the lofty Elizabeth, tickles our romantic sensibilities perfectly.

I've only just realized how very long this post has become. I didn't realize how much I had to say on the subject! But the similarities are so striking, I find it thoroughly fascinating and I wonder if the makers of Pirates didn't use Captain Blood as a sort of muse or something. Anyway, if you haven't seen the movies, I highly recommend them. They are both classics in their own way. So, if you don't think you can hold up a pirate accent and jargon all day (or even if you can), check out these movies, settle down with your mates and drink up, me hearties, yo ho!


  1. Now you just need to bring in "Pirates of Penzance" for contrast...
    Great post! :o)

  2. Argh! 'Tis a pretty piece of writin' lassy...did pirates really talk like this??? How tiring that would have been!

    Anyway...I much prefer this kind pirate to the reality! I had no idea there were so many commonalities between the movies! Very cool!

  3. Now that you mention it... I have some old pirate movie in my dvd's. It might just be "Captain Blood." I'll have to look! Excellent comparison!

  4. YESSS!

    I've been thinking the same thing ever since I first saw POTC! The similarities are really so crazy!

    Also, The Black Swan (another great classic pirate film) is borrowed from heavily by POTC.

    Great post!


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