Buccaneer, The (1938): DeMille’s Spectacle

Cecil B. DeMille’s Oscar-nominated “The Buccaneer,” a big, visually striking, often silly epic, stars Fredric March, as the 18th century pirate Jean Lafitte.

From the opening scene in which Dolly Madison (Spring Byington) rescues the Declaration of Independence during the burning of Washington to the closing clinch between Lafitte and Gretchen, “The Buccaneer” is one of DeMille’s most exhilarating spectacles.

By today’s standards, March looks strange, if not ridiculous, with his curly hair, pencil moustache and heavy French accent, and acts even more strangely with lots of eye rolling and tooth flashing

Based in the “buccaneer’s haven” of the coast of New Orleans, Lafitte plunders all passing ships for their wealth, but refuses to attack any vessel flying the American flag.

During one seafaring skirmish, he rescues Dutch maiden Gretchen (Franziska Gaal) from a sunken ship. Gretchen falls in love with him, but he opts for aristocratic Louisana belle Annette (Margot Grahame).

During the War of 1812, Lafitte is offered a pardon by Andrew Jackson (Hugh Sothern) if he and his pirates will fight on the American side, and he and his men ward off the British at the Battle of New Orleans.

During a Victory Ball in his honor, Lafitte is confronted with evidence that he unknowingly caused the death of Annette’s younger sister Marie (Louise Campbell) during an act of piracy.

Rather than hanging him, General Jackson offers the pirate to leave New Orleans, and never set foot on American soil again. This naturally costs Lafitte the love of Annette; fortunately, Gretchen is awaiting him on board his ship.

The 1938 film was hugely popular at the box-office.  It was remade less successfully in 1958 under the direction of Cecil B’s son-in-law Anthony Quinn, who had played the supporting role of Beluche in the original.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Cinematography: Victor Milner

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Cinematography Oscar was Joseph Ruttenberg for “The Great Waltz.”

 

MPAA: PG

Running time: 124

Directed by Cecil B. DeMille

Released February 4, 1938 Wide