Captain Blood (1935): Michael Curtiz Oscar-Nominated Swashbuckling Adventure, Starring Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland in the First of Eight Teamings

Encouraged by the success of swashbuckling and costume dramas released in 1934, “Treasure Island” and “The Count of Monte Cristo,” Warner produced “Captain Blood,” directed by the versatile contract helmer Michael Curtiz.

Grade: B+

Grade: B (***1/2 out of *****)

In 1923, Vitograph made a silent film out of Rafael Sabatini’s 1922 popular novel, featuring J. Warren Kerrigan as Peter Blood, the Renaissance man, who was a skilled physician, humanist and buccaneer.

This swashbuckling adventure, shot in black and white, was produced by Harry Joe Brown and Gordon Hollingshead; Hal B. Wallis served as exec-producer.

Casey Robinson’s script concerns an enslaved doctor and his fellow prisoners who escape their cruel island imprisonment and become pirates in the West Indies.

Premise:

Set in 17th-century England, Irish doctor Peter Blood is summoned to aid Lord Gildoy, a wounded patron who had participated in the Monmouth Rebellion. Arrested while performing his physician’s duties, he is convicted of treason against King James II and sentenced to death by Judge Jeffreys.

The king sees opportunity for profit, and Blood and the surviving rebels are transported to the West Indies to be sold into slavery.  Blood is purchased by Arabella Bishop (de Havilland), the beautiful niece of military commander Colonel Bishop. Attracted by Blood’s rebellious nature, Arabella recommends him as personal physician of the colony’s governor, who suffers from gout.

Initially, Peter Blood’s role in the remake was going to Robert Donat, but after he dropped, it was assigned to the then newcomer Errol Flynn, right after his appearance in “The Case of the Curious Bride.”

The young Olivia De Havilland assumed the romantic interest (originally, it was cast with Jean Muir), and a new popular screen couple emerged, responsible for the making of seven additional movies together.

Warner took risks in pairing two relatively unknown performers in the lead roles. Flynn’s performance made him a major Hollywood star and established him as the natural successor to Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and a “symbol of an unvanquished man” during the Depression.

Captain Blood also established de Havilland, in her fourth screen role, as a major star and was the first of eight films co-starring Flynn and de Havilland.

In 1938, the two were reunited with Basil Rathbone in The Adventures of Robin Hood, one of Flynn’s best pictures; that same year, Rathbone also starred with Flynn in The Dawn Patrol.

Despite flaws in the writing department, and anachronistic language, events, an costumes, the movie is enjoyable due to the strong chemistry between the two stars.

As usual, director Curtiz balances nicely the spectacle elements with the human drama.  Flynn, the right actor at the right time and place, proves that he is perfectly cast in costume dramas that call for bravura stunts.  This became evident three years later, when he commanded the screen in the superior saga (this time in color), “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” also opposite Olivia De Havilland.

Commercial Appeal

The film was a big hit, making a profit of $1.5 million, based on domestic grosses of $1,1 and foreign of $1,4 foreign.

Curio Note:

In 1962, Flynn’s son Sean starred in The Son of Captain Blood.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Picture (produced by Hal Wallis, with Harry Joe Brown and Gordon Hollingshead)
Sound Recording: Nathan Levinson

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context

“Captain Blood” competed for the Best Picture Oscar with eleven other films: Alice Adams, Broadway Melody of 1936, David Copperfield, The Informer, Les Miserables, Lives of a Bengal Lancer, A Midsummer Nights Dream, Mutiny on the Bounty, which won, Naughty Marietta, Ruggles of Red Gap, and Top Hat.

Mutiny of the Bounty won the Best Picture, and the Sound Oscar went to Douglas Shearer (Norma’s brother) for Naughty Marietta.

Cast

Errol Flynn as Peter Blood
Olivia de Havilland as Arabella Bishop
Lionel Atwill as Colonel Bishop
Basil Rathbone as Levasseur
Ross Alexander as Jeremy Pitt, Blood’s friend and navigator
Guy Kibbee as Henry Hagthorpe, Master Gunner
Henry Stephenson as Lord Willoughby
Robert Barrat as John Wolverstone
Hobart Cavanaugh as Dr. Bronson
Donald Meek as Dr. Whacker
Jessie Ralph as Mrs. Barlow
Forrester Harvey as Honesty Nuttall
Frank McGlynn Sr. as Rev. Uriah Ogle
Holmes Herbert as Capt. Gardner

Credits:

Directed by Michael Curtiz
Produced by Harry Joe Brown. Gordon Hollingshead
Screenplay by Casey Robinson, based on Captain Blood 1922 novel by Rafael Sabatini
Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Cinematography: Ernest Haller, Hal Mohr
Edited by George Amy
Production company: Cosmopolitan Productions
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date: December 28, 1935
Running time: 119 minutes