After that, rough seas lay ahead—remember Cutthroat Island?—but Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl put the sea scoundrel's adventure back on the profit track.
The genre was ripe for a revival. Practically no one saw Tommy Lee Jones taking on gunboats and primitive islanders in the South Pacific pirates clunker, Nate and Hayes (1983; recently released on DVD). The characters—a swarthy rogue (Jones), a young buck and his fair maiden—are similar to the leads in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which also began with the rogue's hanging (so did Swashbuckler). The script was co-written by John Hughes of Home Alone fame.
Those who walked the pirate box office plank include those singing kids, Kristy McNichol and Christopher Atkins in The Pirate Movie (1982), with the tag line "Buckle Your Swash and Jolly Your Roger," Walter Matthau in Roman Polanski's Pirates in 1986 and Kevin Kline, Linda Ronstadt and Angela Lansbury in the Gilbert and Sullivan Broadway musical bomb, The Pirates of Penzance.
They were ravaged on arrival, one and all. So was Swashbuckler, dubbed "the greatest pirate movie ever made," which it was not. It was, however, barrels of fun.
With the magnificent Robert Shaw as a scarlet-shirted rascal chasing fiery Genevieve Bujold, how could it not be? Cashing in on Richard Lester's enormously popular The Three Musketeers pictures, the movie is weighted with too many gold coins.
Swashbuckler unbuckles its swash and, long before Johnny Depp sashayed across the screen, with plenty of swish. Besides comely Miss Bujold skinny-dipping in a Caribbean cove, Shaw in his Jaws prime with a mightier, lustier aargh than has been seen or heard since, and a pre-Darth Vader James Earl Jones as Shaw's best friend, liberating Jamaica from the property-seizing state, there's Peter Boyle (Young Frankenstein), Beau Bridges (Norma Rae) and Anjelica Huston, billed as a "woman of dark visage."
Long-play fight choreography and excellent swordsmanship—Miss Bujold included—daring stunts and a plucky musical theme make it a randy cup of rum. Add race-baiting—with Live and Let Die's six-foot-six Geoffrey Holder to even the score—Boyle as a tyrant with a sexual preference for boys, Avery Schreiber as a Polish pirate, beautiful photography, and it's the perfect late night DVD pick.
A beloved classic is Walt Disney's adaptation of writer Robert Louis Stevenson's novel, Treasure Island (1950), which is more enthralling and suspenseful than the theme park pics. When young Jim Hawkins climbs the ship's mast, aims his gun at a pirate, and threatens to blow his brains out, it's true adventure—and one fabulous movie. Favorite moment: when one-legged scamp Long John Silver exclaims, at the height of the fight over a treasure map: "Oh, but for ten toes!"
Of course, nothing compares to those ultimate pirate movie treasures—Errol Flynn as Captain Blood (1935) and as captain of The Sea Hawk (1940), both based on novels by Italian Rafael Sabatini. Or Cecil B. DeMille's The Buccaneer (1938), loosely based on New Orleans pirate Jean Lafitte starring Fredric March and Anthony Quinn.
Also starring Quinn and also based on a book by Sabatini is the Tyrone Power-Maureen O'Hara classic, The Black Swan (1942). Swashbuckling, treachery, action, what they used to call sex appeal—this movie has it all, and an Oscar for its lush photography.
20th Century Fox is releasing the 85-minute The Black Swan on DVD with a commentary by Miss O'Hara, trailer, restoration comparison and production notes, on July 11. Look no further for the feisty governor's daughter, a ship with black in its name and a mad dash for Tortuga—like in Hollywood's newest pirate picture, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest.
• 6/29/06 - Scott Holleran: Pirates of the Caribbean Disneyland Attraction and Movie Premiere
• Review - Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
• Review - Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
• DVD - Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
• DVD - Swashbuckler
• DVD - Nate and Hayes
• DVD - The Pirate Movie
• VHS - The Pirates of Penzance
• DVD - Treasure Island
• DVD - Captain Blood
• DVD - The Sea Hawk
• VHS - The Buccaneer
• DVD - The Black Swan