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For me? An island like this. Peaceful. Full of golden women and no men.

Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day. [For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.] Boy am I totally loving this DVD set so far. Yesterday’s TERROR OF THE TONGS was a great little crime flick from Hammer, featuring an awesome performance from Christopher Lee as the Chinese overlord of a horrible hatchet-wielding crime syndicate in early 1900s Hong Kong. Today we follow Lee to a swashbuckling adventure called PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER, also a Hammer production and from a story by yesterday’s screenwriter Jimmy Sangster. I wish Columbia or whomever put out this set would make the cover of the DVD reflect the fun and dazzling Technicolor glory of the movies. Shot in “Hammerscope” the widescreen transfer is gorgeous on this tale that seems to have everything thrown in. We start at a colony formed in secret by people escaping persecution, but within a couple generations the religious rulers of this colony have become just as intolerant and unjust as the people their grandfathers sought escape from.

One man is willing to stand up to them and when he’s caught with another man’s wife that’s all the excuse they need to try him. Oh, and he’s the son of the head of the colony, who exercises only a little restraint, casting Kerwin Mathews out instead of hanging him. Off to a harsh prison camp he goes, but we know he’s too cunning and heroic to stay there for long. Mathews was Sinbad afterall (7th VOYAGE). No prison will hold him for long. Plus we know there has to be some pirate actions at some point. It’s in the bloody title.

Escape he does and runs right into a band of no good dirty pirates who take the wounded and exhausted Mathews before their Captain, the one-eyed Frenchman LaRoche, played with a flawless accent by Christopher Lee. And did I mention that one of Lee’s main pirate henchmen is noneother than one of the ultimate badasses of cinema history? Oliver Mother-Fathering Reed.

The filmography puts this film a year after his memorable turn in another Hammer production CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF, but previous to that his parts are listed as “Chorus Boy,” “Plaid Shirt,” and “Spectator at Sideshow,” so this was just as he was becoming an icon. Outside of the THREE MUSKETEERS/FOUR MUSKETEERS one-two punch, I had no idea Oliver Reed was in a movie with Christopher Lee. A quick IMDB search (or not so quick… why do they make it so damn difficult to search for joint ventures?) shows Reed had a bit part in 1960’s THE TWO FACES OF DR. JEKYLL starring Lee and that they also appeared together in a 1990 retelling of TREASURE ISLAND with Charlton Heston as Long John Silver and Christian Bale (!) as Jim Hawkins. Wow. What a cast… gotta find that one. Anyway, count me plussed to see Oliver Reed as a man barely in check, happy to rape and pillage his balls off, but kept in check by one of the only men who could stare Oliver Reed in the eye and not blink, Christopher Lee. At first Mathews and Lee form a partnership. Lee is impressed that this colony is unknown to the world and sees the value in having use of its ports and is willing to help Mathews get home and put pressure on the town elders to change their ways and regain the freedom the colony founders intended. Of course this doesn’t last long. The second they get to the outskirts of the colony, Reed and another pirate try to steal two women and murder the husband/father of the two damsels. Turns out Lee is under the impression that the town is hiding a vast fortune and doesn’t really give a damn what his crew does to the townspeople. This doesn’t sit well with Mathews, so he becomes prisoner again as the colony prepares to defend itself. But why is it called PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER? Where’s the blood river? I’m glad you asked. In the opening scenes we see Mathew’s love (and another man’s wife) flee from her angry and abusive husband when the two are discovered. She tries to swim for it, but the river bordering the town is filled with piranha. Poor girl. So you know that’s going to come back and it does, although I wish the second appearance of the piranha had been handled a bit differently… the way it is, it’s like they just appear and aren’t used to the advantage of the good guys like I had hoped they would have been.

Lee is as great as he always is, but it’s a little weird seeing him so young, brown-haired and unlined features. He’s usually either in heavy make-up or befanged and I’m so familiar with his later work that it’s crazy to see him young. His charisma and quiet menace has been with him all along, though. That’s not something he gained with age. Mathews is fine as our lead, Jonathan Standing. He’s not exactly multilayered as a character, but he’s likable and represents perfection in spirit and attitude. I’m noticing a trend with these Sangster flicks… the lead always seems to be a one-dimensional good guy whereas the villains are given some really great and complex characters. LaRoche has his own morality, but is afraid of mutiny and with every mistake or complication he’s one step closer to losing control of his outfit. Yesterday’s Lee Chinaman Chung King was likewise multilayered as a character. He was more traditionally evil than LaRoche, but when the final conflict comes he takes a very noble stance and doesn’t pull any typical villain maneuvers.

I’m beginning to see that Sangster’s stories love their villains more than their heroes even though they know the villains must be defeated by the end of the picture. Interesting. Sangster can’t get all the credit for this really fun picture, though. He has a Story By credit and John Hunter and John Gilling are credited for the screenplay. Gilling also directed and everybody I’ve mentioned really brought it. The flick doesn’t feel like a cheap B-movie at any point. The direction is tight, the script is fast and really tries to hit a lot of different notes throughout, from the wrongs of religious persecution to how the greed of man can lead to evil no matter how noble their intentions, all wrapped in a fun swashbuckling tale with damsels in distress, killer fish, sword-fights and the hunt for a huge treasure. Final Thoughts: A really fun flick, one that doesn’t deserve to be lost in the shuffle. I’m really enjoying these non-horror Hammer entries. This one is filled with some beautiful scenery, great performances and a fight scene with Oliver Reed and another pirate in a blind swordfight over a wench as Christopher Lee lords over the whole thing like the man-God he is. What more could you want?

The schedule for the next 7 days is: Sunday, August 17th: THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES (1964) Monday, August 18th: JESS FRANCO’S COUNT DRACULA (1973) Tuesday, August 19th: DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972) Wednesday, August 20th: THE STRANGLERS OF BOMBAY (1960) Thursday, August 21st: MAN, WOMAN & CHILD (1983) Friday, August 22nd: THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976) Saturday, August 23rd: THE YOUNG PHILADELPHIANS (1959) Tomorrow we hit our 3rd feature on this 4-movie set, once again following Lee and Sangster to another pirate tale 1964’s THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES. See you folks then! -Quint

Previous Movies: June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs

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