The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Jack Sparrow's long-lost relatives

In 2003, Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow helped revitalize the pirate movie with the hugely popular and trilogy spawning Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl.  Basically, he made pirates cool again mostly because Depp is one of the coolest actors around.  For years though, the pirate movie had been a thing of the past -- other than the box-office bomb Cutthroat Island -- after being extremely popular in the Hollywood studio era.  The star most often associated with these swashbuckling roles was Errol Flynn, but many actors took to the high seas as a pirate.

Where Flynn was an ideal choice to play a pirate -- roguish but not a killer, smooth but particularly vicious at times -- those other actors had their work cut out for them...usually because they were compared to Flynn.  Some were better than others, but I watched two recently that certainly qualify in the odd casting department, Paul Henreid in 1945's The Spanish Main and Sterling Hayden in 1952's The Golden Hawk.  I typically think of Henreid as a second banana, and I questioned whether Hayden has the on-screen presence to overact as pirates normally do in any number of extravagant ways.  Safe to say, neither is Johnny Depp, but here goes.

Given away as a bride to the viceroy of Cartagena, Spanish contessa Francesca (Maureen O'Hara) is en route when her ship is attacked by the Barracuda, an infamous pirate ship in the Caribbean captained by Laurent Van Horn (Henreid).  She is taken prisoner, and Van Horn demands that she marry him.  Bargaining to save the life of the crew, Francesca agrees.  But the viceroy (Walter Slezak) hears of this and is none too pleased because he's long hunted Van Horn.  The pirate thinks he is in the free and clear with his new wife, but his crew and the pirate code say he has broken their rules.  Nothing comes easy as a pirate.

First off, the casting.  Henreid is not the right choice to play a swashbuckling pirate.  He's too much of a dandy and to say the least, is not intimidating.  He does little of his own stunts with an obvious double stepping in for him.  You want to root for him as he takes on the evil viceroy, but it's hard to get behind him.  O'Hara is quite the looker here with her strikingly red hair, but she's an Irish actress playing a Spanish contessa.  Something doesn't add up, especially when she tries a Spanish accent.  Slezak isn't much of a bad guy either as the somewhat vicious but mostly stupid viceroy.  It's all wrapped up nicely with a bow in the end.

Read any of my previous reviews of a Sterling Hayden movie, and you'll get the same idea with each one.  He's at his best when he's playing the steely-eyed hero.  Ask him to show too much emotion or fire, and it gets awkward real quick.  Transferring that thought, a pirate might not be the ideal choice for a part.  Honestly, Hayden is the least of the problems in The Golden Hawk.  It's a B-movie and not a good one.  The script is awful having characters who hate each other fall madly in love with each other because the story requires it and little else.  'Hawk' has a cheap look to it, lots of studio work, and miniatures serving for any shots of cities or ships sailing the ocean blue.

If you're looking for a plot description, read the one from 'Spanish Main' but replace the actors names.  Hayden is a French (really? French? That's a good one) pirate looking to avenge his mother's death years before.  Hayden's Kit 'the Hawk' Gerardo sails the seas taking down any ship he can.  On board one of theses ships he captures a beautiful woman (Rhonda Fleming) who ends up being a rival pirate.  Throw in a kidnapped Spanish wife who's married to the evil captain, and you've got this stinker.  Look for Michael Ansara in a good supporting part as Bernardo, one of Kit's men.  Other than that, pass on this one in a big way.

The moral of the story after seeing these two pirate movies is this; stick with Errol Flynn and his swashbuckling pirate movies where money was spent on casting, costuming and getting a decent story to work with.  Henreid and Hayden just aren't cut out for parts as pirates, but it's not like the rest of these movies helps out.  O'Hara and Fleming both look great and its refreshing to see some take no crap badass chicks in older movies, but they're lost in a sea of bad movie.

The Spanish Main <---trailer (1945): **/****  
The Golden Hawk (1952): */****

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