Sunday, April 25, 2010

At the (old) movies: 'Captain Blood'

Some notes from a recent gathering of the local cinephile society:

I hadn’t seen “Captain Blood” (Warner Bros., 1935) in many years.

I think the last time I’d seen it might have been when I was a kid, watching a local show called “Hollywood Matinee.”

Actually, that might not be exactly right, if you consider that the host, Ed Murphy, always seemed to pronounce this as “Hollywood Mmmmmmmmmmmatinee!”

The show ran Mondays through Fridays, 1 to 2:30 p.m. Into those 90 minutes the station would shoehorn Ed’s opening and closing, a bunch of commercial breaks and, oh yes, a movie.

I’m guessing that most of the movies Ed showed had a running time of 90 minutes, tops, or an hour and 45 minutes.

You probably won’t be surprised to learn that most of the time, the movies were not presented in full. They’d show the opening credits, then jump to the second reel, or maybe the third.

Surprisingly, as I recall, this didn’t hurt that many movies, especially as a good number seemed to be Universal B pictures.

Occasionally a movie would be so long that the traditional “Hollywood Mmmmmmmmmmmatinee!” treatment wouldn’t work. So they’d make it a two-parter.

I especially remember that they did this for Frank Capra’s “Arsenic and Old Lace.” I don’t know why, but they always seemed to show this while I was home sick from school.

As the years went by, I suspect the ratings began to slip, because the station decided to add something in an attempt to perk things up (though it cut into the movies even more):

Dialing for Dollars.

Remember that? And remember Bowling for Dollars, which the same station aired at 7 p.m.? I’ve sometimes wondered why they didn’t combine the two, for a show called Dialing for Bowlers. But then again, I don’t have the brains to be a network executive and come up with red-hot show ideas like “Minute to Win It.” (Which I never enjoyed all that much years ago when it was called “Beat the Clock.”)

Oh, I’m supposed to be talking about “Captain Blood”?

OK, if you insist.

“Captain Blood” was one of those two-part “Hollywood Mmmmmmmmmmmatinee!” movies. I remember enjoying it when I was a kid, and I’m happy to report that years later it seems to hold up quite well.

The hero, played by Errol Flynn in his first big role, is about a pirate named, quite conveniently, Peter Blood. Actually, Blood doesn’t start out as a pirate but as a doctor (go ahead, write your own joke here, I'll wait), and when he gets called away one night to attend to a patient and tells his housekeeper that he’ll surely be back in time for breakfast, well, even audiences in 1935 knew that the housekeeper’s next paycheck would be a long time coming.

Blood gets into trouble for treating someone who is unpopular with the kind of folks who can, if they want, have Blood deported and made a slave somewhere in the Caribbean. And of course it turns out that this is exactly what they want to do.

So Blood winds up being sold to Olivia De Havilland, who’s the niece of perennial bad guy Lionel Atwill, here wearing a wig that makes him look like a demented Buster Brown.

Blood gets revenge – and Ms. De Havilland – all to the strains of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s score and under the expert directorial supervision of Michael Curtiz.

On the one hand there is something triumphant about the picture – not only Blood’s triumph but the triumph of a studio that was gambling that Flynn could become a major star. It was a gamble that paid off big-time, and I can only imagine the thrill that the audiences felt as they realized they were seeing a major star become a major star before their eyes.

And there’s something about Flynn’s boyishness and inexperience that works in his favor, and you do root for his character.

But, 75 years after the film’s first release, the sense of triumph and the thrills are offset by what we know now: that as the years pass, Flynn and his characters will gradually grow more cynical and dissolute; only eight years after this film came out, Flynn was parodying himself during a number in the Warner variety film “Thank Your Lucky Stars.” He was quite amusing as he parodied himself, but still.

And he was only 50 when he died.

But I suppose his diehard fans can take comfort in knowing that the young, promising Flynn, on a fast and seemingly inevitable track to stardom and good fortune beyond a Powerball player’s dreams, will always be with us as long as “Captain Blood” survives.


VP81955 said...

Here's something on my movies-on-TV memories:

Mark Murphy said...

Thanks. Nice essay the WSYR ad brought back remembers I can still remember the first few bars of the "Movie of the Week" theme.

I also remember the "Notorious Landlady" screw-up. I remember trying to make sense of the movie as I watched (a little) of it. I believe it was on CBS.