October 9, 2014

The Crimson Pirate (1952)
Grade: 48/100

Director: Robert Siodmak
Stars: Burt Lancaster, Nick Cravat, Eva Bartok

What it's about. Burly Burt Lancaster is pirate captain Vallo during the late 18th century. His mute sidekick is Ojo (Nick Cravat), and his pirate antagonist is Torin Thatcher.

The pirates somehow seize a Spanish flagship carrying smug Baron Gruda (Leslie Bradley). Because it is a movie, Gruda is released, and Vallo hatches an unlikely scheme involving gun running and the capture and sale of El Libre (Frederick Leister), a rebel on a Spanish-controlled Caribbean island.

Vallo and Ojo perform a spy mission on the island to seize El Libre. Instead, they encounter an angry old man in need of a barber, and El Libre's hottie and hot-headed grown daughter Consuelo (Eva Bartok).

A bewildering plot unfolds. Vallo is betrayed by his pirates, who are fooled into a trap by Baron Gruda. Vallo cons Spanish colonial governor Eliot Makeham into releasing El Libre. Vallo acquires an unlikely ally in James Hayter, a Ben Franklin-type scientist who creates futuristic weapons (a hot air balloon, dynamite, a tank, a flamethrower, etc.) to battle the Spanish soldiers. Ultimately, Vallo rescues El Libre, the scientist, his pirate crew, and Consuelo, and defeats Baron Gruda and all his various Spanish allies.

Eventual moviestar Christopher Lee has a minor supporting role as Baron Gruda's sidekick. Dana Wynter shows up as a Gruda's would-be mistress, but, because it is a movie, she is not ravished by either Vallo or the other pirates.

How others will see it. The Crimson Pirate was considered colorful fluff upon initial release. It failed to secure any festival award nominations. Eventually, it acquired a cult following, and today ranks among Lancaster's more popular action movies.

At imdb.com, the user ratings are consistent across all demographics, and the nearly 4K user vote total is reasonable for a film that is more than six decades old. Message board consensus is that The Crimson Pirate is entertaining, and plot holes should be ignored.

How I felt about it. The problems with this movie begin almost immediately. The pirates all pose as dead with scurvy, which to begin with is preposterous. The English ship then sends just a couple of people onboard to take the pirate ship, and neither take any action to determine if the pirates are actually dead or just faking.

The rest of the movie is more unbelievable nonsense, ending up with our portly and nearly elderly professor single-handedly propelling his anachronistic submarine to the ship. Lancaster gets the hottie and fiery girl, as if there was ever any doubt, even though her father (her motive for all actions in the first half of the movie) has been executed.

In between, we have a pirate with his peg leg caught in a grid winning sword fights, a right-hand man for Lancaster who can't speak (yet Lancaster always understands what he has to tell him), a fish net full of pirates, a boat overturned that becomes an underwater diving bell that can be walked to shore, two pirates successfully posing as well-educated aristocrats, and a convoluted plot certain to end up somehow with total victory for Lancaster.

On the positive side, Lancaster's skills as an acrobat are as impressive as his barrel chest, Eva Bartok is a looker, and Warner Bros. spared no expense in supplying sets, costumes, and extras.