Directors: Gordon Douglas, Ralph Murphy
Sony Pictures

Pirate movies have once again come into vogue thanks to the recent success of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: THE CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL and its highly anticipated sequel, prompting studios to peruse their film libraries for similar-themed DVD fodder. In this instance, Sony has unleashed two old-time Hollywood swashbuckler adventures featuring Louis Hayward, the screen’s first Simon ‘The Saint’ Templar and star of the 1939 James Whale version of THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK. FORTUNES OF CAPTAIN BLOOD and CAPTAIN PIRATE may be very odd choices to affix to the Midnite Movies DVD line, but they are enjoyable matinee romps from a long gone era.

FORTUNES OF CAPTAIN BLOOD stars Hayward as Captain Peter Blood, an Irish doctor turned pirate king commanding a vessel full of rough n’ ready rogues. Blood turned to piracy after being exiled from England for treating an enemy of the King and now concentrates on bullying merchant ships that come across their path. One day, a number of Blood’s crew members are captured by Spanish soldiers and taken in as slaves who dive for pearls in shark-infested waters. The good Captain then sets out to save his men, dressed as a fruit vendor and donning a Spanish accent to slide in with the crowds. His exploits lead Blood to a run-in with the beautiful Isabelita Sotomayor (stunning British-born Patricia Medina) and an inevitable courtship, but soon finds her uncle, the Marquis de Riconete (George Macready), in pursuit of him and his cronies.

Based on (or loosely based on) the novel by Rafael Sabatini (the same source for the 1935 Errol Flynn film, CAPTAIN BLOOD), THE FORTUNES OF CAPTAIN BLOOD from the onset looks to be standard, studio-bound stuff with its typical seafaring and costumed buccaneers. But once it really gets going, it’s fairly captivating, with Hayward giving a respectably restrained performance amongst a sea of hams. Impressive sword fights augment a good number of action sequences, the highlight being where Blood rescues his pals from a Spanish prison – including such screen violence as a gun shot in the face and a conquistador set on fire! George Macready (whose distinct voice can be heard narrating COUNT YORGA VAMPIRE) is memorable as the baddie, and a number of other good characters actors are on hand, including Alfonso Bedoya (the Mexican bandit who delivered the immortal "stinking badges" line in TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE) as a shady prison overseer. The well orchestrated battle scenes would later be used as stock footage in a number of other low budget quickies.

On DVD, THE FORTUNES OF CAPTAIN BLOOD is presented in its proper full screen aspect ratio. The black and white presentation here looks really good, with the images being very sharp and well detailed, and blacks being especially deep. There is hardly any noticeable print blemishes, and the mono audio comes through clear with dialogue being easily comprehensible, and Paul Sawtell’s roaring score is also done justice. Optional subtitles are included in English, Japanese and Portuguese.

Producer Harry Joe Brown, along with Hayward and Medina (reprising their roles) return in the 1952 sequel, CAPTAIN PIRATE, this time shot in color. Pardoned and given his freedom at the end of previous film, Captain Blood has now quit the piracy business and is hiding out as a doctor treating runaway slaves in the West Indies. Now engaged to Isabelita, Blood’s pirate persona is soon uncovered by authorities, and he is falsely accused of murder. He is imprisoned and to be sent to the gallows, so his faithful fiancée calls for his old pirate crew to be reunited for the sake of freeing him. Blood’s buccaneers attack the galleon in which he is held prisoner and cause mutiny, allowing him to once again take command. His mission is to hunt down the scoundrel who tried to destroy his good name.

With color as an added bonus to this follow-up, CAPTAIN PIRATE marks an improvement over its predecessor, perhaps not in terms of plotting or pacing, but in terms of production values, looking far more lavish. Hayward’s Peter Blood this time dons several thin disguises to go undercover in Spanish villages, and Medina’s Isabelita is now upped to a braver and more loyal heroine. Hayward here is in top form, sword-playing his enemies when he’s not cleverly outwitting them, and the battle scenes (exploding canons and sinking battleships) during the climax showcase some exceptional special effects for 1952. The fine cast of supporting players includes John Sutton, George Givot, Charles Irwin, Ted de Corsia and Rex Evans.

CAPTAIN PIRATE is presented on DVD in its original full screen ratio. The vibrant rainbow of colors here are true to the film’s Technicolor process, and its looks practically brand new except for a few minor speckling on the source print. The definition and clarity are excellent, with deep blacks and a very sharp image. The mono audio track is fine, with music remaining free of distortion and dialogue being very cleanly rendered. Optional subtitles are included in English, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish.

Spread across two separate discs, these new Midnite Movies titles are the first from the Columbia Pictures vaults to presented on the line, as distributed by Sony. The logo on the front cover has been altered, and the back cover format has also changed (no poster art, but rather a small still from each film) from when MGM was handling the series, and the main menus are very simple, with no illustrations or chapter menus. Hopefully, Sony will continue to release more obscure yet vintage library titles of this sort, especially when they’re given such a nice visual presentation. (George R. Reis)