While the Pirates of the Caribbean movies may have become a franchise worth billions, the pirate movie still isn’t a genre that we see too much these days. But back in the early days of colour, they were all the rage. Swashbuckling was a big deal and hoisting mainsails propelled many a crowd pleasing blockbuster. But it’s a genre I’ve never really paid much attention to. It took the involvement of Burt Lancaster for me to watch possibly my first ever classic pirate picture, The Crimson Pirate.
Lancaster is Captain Vallo, AKA the Crimson Pirate. When he captures a British Navy ship, he first plans to sell the weapons on board to a rebel named El Libre. But he’s eventually convinced to capture El Libre (Fredrick Leister) instead, for a tidy profit. Until his mind is changed again and Vallo is off to save El Libre. It’s a pretty schizophrenic storyline, but that doesn’t matter. It’s all just an excuse for Lancaster and his sidekick, Nick Cravat as Ojo, to romp around ships, islands and little villages.
It’s the kind of classic old movie where the criminals are roguish scamps with hearts of gold, while the bad guys are the stuffy, old, entitled establishment. Captain Vallo might steal, kidnap and commit acts of assault often, but when all of that is done with the cheeky Lancaster grin and sparkle in his eye, it’s impossible to dislike him.
Reading about Lancaster, it turns out he didn’t become an actor until he was in his thirties, and before then, he’d been a professional acrobat. All of that makes perfect sense when watching The Crimson Pirate. This is a movie made for a professional acrobat. Lancaster and Cravat bounce around this movie more than they walk, with the almost non-existent plot there only to give them more excuses to jump, flip, swing and mince their way through a series of slapsticky set pieces. Lancaster even dresses like a circus acrobat when he’s in full pirate mode. An acrobat, or an 80s wrestler.
There’s a half assed story about oppression, there’s a half assed romance angle involving Lancaster and Eva Bartok as El Libre’s daughter Consuelo. But none of that really matters too much. It’s all only there as an excuse to get to more jumping, flipping, swinging and mincing.
Don’t expect any surprises from The Crimson Pirate. Don’t expect anything highbrow from The Crimson Pirate. It’s not interested in surprises and it makes no attempts to be anything even close to approaching highbrow. The Crimson Pirate is the lightest fluff you’ll ever see. It’s corny, over the top, silly and sickly sweet. But when a movie doesn’t take itself too seriously, and knows it’s all of those things, you end up with something that’s really fun. It looks like everyone involved had an amazing time making The Crimson Pirate and that good time is infectious.