A Movie A Day: THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES (1964) If you try to interfere with our departure those girls will be hanged.
Published at: Aug. 18, 2008, 3:27 a.m. CST by quint
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.]
Today we get another “tits and swords” Hammer pirate flick starring Christopher Lee called THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES. “Tits and swords” are what screenwriter Jimmy Sangster calls these Hammer flicks, which he mentions on the commentary to this movie. Minus the nude women, he’s right on. Maybe a more apt phrase would be “Busts and Swords” but it doesn’t have that same ring to it, does it?
Anyway, I’ve been greatly enjoying the run on this DVD set and THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES keeps up the entertaining adventure run started by TERROR OF THE TONGS, yesterday’s THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER and hopefully continued when we come back to finish off this set after a short detour to some of Christopher Lee’s Dracula flicks.
This time Lee plays a Spanish pirate drafted to battle for the King against the British fleet. After a foggy naval defeat that opens this picture we find that the Spanish armada is crippled and Lee’s ship, Diablo, limps away.
He makes the decision to say “fuck off” to the King and docks his critically wounded vessel on the English coastline for repairs. He takes the ship back, killing the Spanish captain onboard.
While repairing the ship a beautiful blonde rows up and is captured. Natasha Pyne plays this innocent young girl who is manipulated by Lee to give info on her small village. All the ablebodied men are at war, leaving only elderly and disabled men.
Our hero is John Cairney (Hylas from JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS), a young man who is left on land after being injured in the war, his left arm useless. But that doesn’t stop him from being a real challenge for Christopher Lee as he rides into town, telling the townspeople that the English have lost the war and that they’re all under his rule now.
From here on out, you have Cairney leading a band of rebels to find out if he’s telling the truth all the while plotting to rid the town of these men. He’s not being helped by the local town… well I don’t know exactly what the hell he is, but he’s played by Ernest Clark and he’s in charge… I’m guessing by social rank, as he’s the richest man in town.
He’s also a coward, not wanting to fight and believing he can keep his status by placating the Spaniards.
There’s plenty of sword fights and some awesome pirate action, including a brawl to settle a difference reminding me of a similar situation in John Wayne’s THE ALAMO where these two men settle the difference by taking turns punching each other. One blow, followed by a reciprocating blow until one is on his ass.
Cairney is, for the first time in this series of Sangster-penned Hammer adventure stories, a solid leading man, I think in large part to giving him such a physical flaw that when he overcomes it to kill himself some bastard pirates you really feel like cheering him on.
In fact, there’s a point where he’s facing down a pirate armed with only a dagger vs. the gloating pirate’s sword. “What are you going to do with that?” the pirate laughs? And without missing a beat Cairney tosses the dagger right into that bastard’s chest.
Isn’t that awesome? I thought it was.
Also unlike the other Hammer Pirate movies, this one actually has a ship. Hammer footed the bill for a real ship! Of course, it spends most of the movie docked on land, waiting for the tide to come back in as the repairs are being done, but still. The whole beginning and finale take place on the boat, so that particular Pirate film itch is now scratched.
Christopher Lee, as always, the bomb. He is given one swordfight that is absolutely delicious. You know and I know that Lee can’t be beat in a swordfight until the last act, so Sangster and director Don Sharp (RASPUTIN: THE MAD MONK, THE FACE OF FU MANCHU) smartly replace the tension of a standard swordfight with Lee playing cat to his adversary’s mouse. Lee toys with the man, passing up a chance to administer a killing stroke with an evil smile. He wants to play some more.
Final Thoughts: So far there hasn’t been a dud on this DVD set. It’s great to see Lee playing out of his horror safe zone even though I’d wager that these pirates he’s playing are every bit as ruthless and blood-thirsty as the vampires and monsters he had played up to this point. The color photography has been great across all these pictures and, most importantly, the sense of fun and adventure has never been lost. These are great little gems.