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Warner Home Video presents
"It's the world against us, and us against the world!"
DVD ReviewNot every movie star gets a coming-out party like this one, but Errol Flynn here grabs his place in the Hollywood cosmos with every bit of panache you can imagine. Our collective image of Flynn is as the grand swashbuckling hero of the early days of talkies, and here's where he buckles his first swashes; it's a pretty silly movie, actually, but it's got all kinds of style and fun, and told the world that Flynn and his charisma were here to stay.
Early on, you may wish you weren't passing notes back in high school during European history—the action starts in 1685 in England, with the forces of rebellion on a rampage against the corrupt King James. (If there's anything I love, it's a movie about the ascendance to the throne of William of Orange—you go, boy.) When we meet him, Dr. Peter Blood is an innocent, administering to the wounded; but the king's forces don't care for the fact that the good doctor is helping to heal the rebels, and therefore brand him as a fellow traveler. His punishment: he's deported to the New World, and sold into slavery. (The character's surname is curious; it couldn't have inspired a lot of confidence if your physician's name was Dr. Blood, even if he was a hematologist. I'm thinking leeches and lots of purgative letting; no doubt handling his malpractice claims is the firm of Dewey, Cheatham and Howe.)
It's in the Americas where Blood meets up with Miss Arabella Bishop, who buys him for all of ten pounds; the connection between them is electric, and you soon get the sense that he's to be more than just another hired hand. Arabella is played by Olivia de Havilland, never lovelier, and ascending the Hollywood pyramid at the time along with Flynn; her part doesn't give her a tremendous amount to do, but there's all kinds of chemistry between her and her leading man. And Flynn did this sort of thing better than anyone before or since, though the movie is a little pokey about it—the iconic Flynn scenes are with him sailing the high seas, but the story takes close to an hour to get him fully committed to his piracy, trading his medical moniker for the one in the film's title. (Earlier, he spends a good amount of time as the personal physician to the colonial governor, administering to the poor old fellow's bouts with gout.)
Lots of the storytelling techniques of silent pictures are still in evidence here—we get great gobs of exposition, for instance, from long title cards, and it's the sort of movie for which you'll want to buy all your popcorn before the roll, because if you miss even a couple of minutes, you'll be at sea. (For instance, at one point, seemingly at random, the Armada comes calling, with this wonderful title card: "The Spaniards land—to loot, pillage and celebrate in pirate fashion." So where can a fella get a good mug of grog around here, anyway?) But once Flynn is in full fighting mode, none of that matters, because he's a paradigmatic pirate—beloved by his men, fearless, catnip to women. Basil Rathbone hadn't yet taken up the pipe, the cape and the deerstalker, and makes for a wonderful villain, Flynn's perfect foil; he would soon become Flynn's bad guy of choice, most famously in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Director Michael Curtiz presides over the proceedings, taking the story just seriously enough so as not to make it all a great joke, and cutting together the action sequences with a keen sense of movement and storytelling. It's not the best movie, nor probably even Flynn's finest hour; but it's a lot of fun, and offered the promise (later made good) of more good times to come from our hero.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: You can see lots and lots of scratches from the source print, and the gray levels dip and dive as much as the high seas do. The transfer itself is all right, but the original material is seriously wanting.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: On par with the video transfer—that is, decently done given the compromised original. Oh, well—learn to love the hiss and crackle.
Audio Transfer Grade: B-
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring A Midsummer Night's Dream
Along with an original trailer, there's the Lux Radio Theater version of the film, first broadcast on February 22, 1937, with Flynn, de Havilland and Rathbone reprising their roles in a version condensed to an hour; somehow, swashbuckling on the radio doesn't do it for me. Herbert Marshall subs for our usual host, Cecil B. De Mille; the best bits may be the ads for Lux toilet soap, "for a quick pick-me-up and to protect daintiness."
Extras Grade: B-
Final CommentsErrol Flynn here does all the things we want him to do: parry with Basil Rathbone, win the heart of Olivia de Havilland, be on the side of the angels while giving his epée a good workout. Old-fashioned fun made in high style by Michael Curtiz.
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