Ah, the legendary pirate movies — Errol Flynn in the likes of Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, and Against All Flags; Douglas Fairbanks in The Black Pirate; Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper in Treasure Island or even Robert Newton and Bobby Driscoll in the remake; Burt Lancaster in The Crimson Pirate — and a disc that gives us three of them. This will be sweet!
Now let’s see, we’ve got Captain Kidd — wait, that’s a pirate title all right, but hardly legendary, in fact usually considered in the second tier at best. Ah well, two out of three can’t be bad. Let’s just take a look at what the other two treasures are. Long John Silver’s Return to Treasure Island? Geez, isn’t that the one where Robert Newton cashes in on his Long John role from the 1950 Treasure Island and generally chews up the scenery doing it? Hmmm. Well, onward and upward — third time lucky! It’s…why it’s…The Son of Monte Cristo? What the? That’s not even a pirate movie at all. In fact, if there’s even a reference to a pirate in it, I’ll walk the plank myself.
Well darn it, here I was looking forward to some old-fashioned, high-grade, sea-going, swashbuckling adventures and now, it looks like I’m going to have to settle for second-rate titles. But they are on DVD, so at least they’re going to look first-rate. Let’s spin her up. Ah, there’s the logo! Good old, familiar…American Home Treasures? Well at least their introductory sequence and FBI warning is mercifully brief. Opening menu should be interesting. Here it comes…Wait, that’s not a menu. Instead, it’s…some wording from the look of it. What’s it say? “Due to the fragile nature of the original materials used to produce this program, the screen quality and continuity of this film may not be equal to current standards.”
Captain Kidd (1945, United Artists) — The pirate Captain Kidd manages to convince King William III to give him a commission to guard a valuable treasure ship traveling to England via Madagascar. Kidd has more in mind than just guarding the ship, but his own plans to make off with the ship’s treasure are complicated by a questionable crew and a former adversary who resurfaces.
The Son of Monte Cristo (1940, United Artists) — Count Durko plans to seize power in the small country of Lichtenberg and force the grand duchess Zona to be his bride. A small group of underground rebels enlists the aid of the son of the famous Count of Monte Cristo to overthrow Durko and his minions.
Long John Silver’s Return to Treasure Island — Long John Silver rescues old friend Jim Hawkins from a ship commandeered by a rival pirate and hopes it will lead to a return to Treasure Island and more treasure.
Assuming you’re not really looking for a pirate movie, the best item on the disc is The Son of Monte Cristo. Director Rowland V. Lee generally excelled at swashbucklers having done the fine Robert Donat version of The Count of Monte Cristo (1934) (why isn’t that on DVD?), a creditable The Three Musketeers for RKO in 1935, and 1945’s Captain Kidd. Lee has a nice script for The Son of Monte Cristo and really moves the action along. He’s aided by the presence of Louis Hayward in the title role and a juicy job by George Sanders as the villain. Hayward is sort of the poor man’s Errol Flynn, but he does look the part of the swashbuckling hero and he would later star in a series of lower budget adventure features including the likes of The Black Arrow, Pirates of Capri, The Fortunes of Captain Blood, and Captain Pirate. George Sanders, for all his disdain for many of the films he appeared in, nearly always gave viewers their money’s worth. This outing is one of his lesser films, but he certainly seems to be enjoying himself as the ruthless Count Durko. Joan Bennett plays the Maid Marian-like role. Those on the lookout for familiar character actors will have a field day here. Clayton Moore (TV’s The Lone Ranger) has a good supporting part as a palace guard sympathetic to Monte Cristo and his followers (not just a brief appearance as stated in Maltin’s guide). Ralph Byrd (Dick Tracy in several serials) makes an appearance as an attempted killer of Count Durko, and Ian Wolfe, Montagu Love, Florence Bates, and Rand Brooks (one of the Tarleton brothers in Gone with the Wind) all appear to good advantage. For a public domain release, The Son of Monte Cristo doesn’t look terrible. The transfer (full frame in accord with the original aspect ratio) is watchable throughout, but it is characterized continuously by scratches, speckles, and lack of shadow detail. Contrast is rather soft at times and edge effects are apparent though not distracting. The mono sound is serviceable though some hiss and crackle is present. The only supplement relevant to the film is biographical and filmographic information on Joan Bennett.
If you’re actually looking for a pirate film, it’s a toss-up. Long John Silver’s Return to Treasure Island and Captain Kidd both have their problems. If it’s scenery chewing you want, Robert Newton offers it as Long John Silver in one and Charles Laughton offers it as Captain Kidd in the other. The problem with mugging is that it soon wears out a film’s welcome. At 103 minutes, that’s a problem for Long John Silver’s Return to Treasure Island. At 81 minutes, it’s less of a concern for Captain Kidd. The latter has all the pirate stereotypes firmly in place, but it certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously. Historical accuracy may be lacking, but the story entertains and it’s ably directed by Rowland V. Lee. Aside from Charles Laughton, the film benefits from the presence of Randolph Scott in a co-starring role and in support, the likes of John Carradine, Gilbert Roland, John Qualen, and Henry Daniell. The DVD version on the disc is again full frame in accord with the original aspect ratio, but lacks about eight or nine minutes of the original release. The picture quality is overall about on a par with The Son of Monte Cristo; it’s just not as consistent. Some parts are better; some are worse. The usual scratches and speckles abound. Blacks are a bit deeper in some scenes. The mono sound is serviceable. The only supplements relevant are biographical and filmographic information on Charles Laughton and Randolph Scott, and a brief historical note on the real William Kidd.
Long John Silver’s Return to Treasure Island was originally released as Long John Silver — a 1954 Australian production directed by Byron Haskin (who also directed Disney’s 1950 version of Treasure Island). The film itself is a disappointing sequel — a plodding, prosaic effort lacking the excitement and fun of the original. But moreso, it was a Cinemascope (2.55:1) picture in colour (by Deluxe) and therein lies the real problem with this disc’s version. It’s cropped and the colour is abominable — washed-out, fuzzy, reds bleeding. Oh, you can see what’s going on, but it becomes hard on the eyes to watch after a short time, not to mention that we’re seeing only about half of the original image. The sequence where we see Treasure Island once again is one of the few pleasures of the film and it’s completely ruined by the wretched transfer. Even the sound seems to suffer more than the other two films on the disc. The only supplement is biographical and filmographic information on Robert Newton.
Legendary Pirate Movies is one of several triple bill discs being issued by American Home Treasures, an arm of BFS Entertainment. If it’s really pirate films you want, you won’t find much here to attract you. The best item on the disc isn’t a pirate film; it’s The Son of Monte Cristo — a public domain title also available from other such specialists. Captain Kidd is the second best film on the disc, but if it really interests you, I’d look for Roan Group’s version released a year or more ago. As for Long John Silver’s Return to Treasure Island, the version presented here is a travesty. Even at $7.00 (the price you’ll find this for at some online stores), I can’t recommend this disc. Although I suppose if you just wanted it for The Son of Monte Cristo…well, I leave it to you.
No bottles of rum here, just a little friendly plank walking.