Crimson Pirate, The (1952): Siodmak’s Technicolor Adventure, Starring Burt Lancaster, Eva Bartok

Burt Lancaster and his old partner Nick Cravat made nine films together, the most popular of which were The Crimson Pirate in 1952 and The Flame and the Arrow 1950.

Loyal to friend and colleaue, the star kept Cravat on his payroll for life, as both trainer and co-star.

Cravat’s character in both films is mute, not because he was mute but due to his too thick Brooklyn accent.

Waldo Salt’s original screenplay was rejected by the producers due to his “suspicious” Communist ties. Christopher Lee claims that director Robert Siodmak changed the initial script considerably.

Director Siodmak, better known for his film noirs (“The Killers,” featuring Lancaster’s impressive debut), imbued The Crimson Pirate with a tongue-in-cheek humor and self-consciousness of the genre’s conventions.

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

The Crimson Pirate
Crimson pirate655.jpg

The Crimson Pirate is set late in the 18th century, on the fictional Caribbean islands of San Pero and Cobra, where a rebellion on Cobra is underway by the mysterious “El Libre.” Lancaster plays Pirate Captain Vallo, who captures the King’s ship carrying His Majesty’s envoy.

Baron Gruda (Leslie Bradley), planning on crushing the rebellion on Cobra, makes Vallo a surprising offer. If accepted, it would make a sizeable profit for the Captain and his buccaneer crew.

Lancaster, at the peak of his career, looks very handsome, changing costumes in almost every scene, many of which dominated by the color red.

The last act–about 10 minutes long, which concludes the picture, is particularly fun to watch, with Lancaster and Cravat in a balloon, trying to recapture their pirate ship.

As noted, Lancaster’s athletic skills and physical energy draw on his work as acrobat (with Cravat) early on in his career.  Unabashedly goofy, trying to recreate the swashbuckling style of Douglas Fairbanks. The Crimson Pirate combines slapstick humor and high-jinks adventure, showcasing Lancaster fighting and brawling with punches and swords, swinging from ropes, and even appearing in female impersonation, resulting in old-fashioned, movieish (nothing to be taken seriously) entertainment.

The movie, made on a budget of $1.75 million, was popular at the box-office, and in later years, Lancaster planned to make a sequel, which never materialized.


Directed by Robert Siodmak
Produced by Norman Deming, Harold Hecht, Burt Lancaster
Written by Roland Kibbee Waldo Salt (original draft)
Music by William Alwyn
Cinematography: Otto Heller
Edited by Jack Harris
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date: August 27, 1952 (New York); September 27, 1952 (U.S.)
Running time: 105 minutes