Today is Sunday, so it is time for another 52 Code Films article. Every week this year, I have agreed to write at least one article in this series. I start by watching at least one new Code film, an American movie made between 1934 and 1954, earlier in the week. On Sunday, I review that film. Since I am writing one article in this series for every week in 2019, I will publish fifty-two such articles this year, hence the series’ title. I am now on my thirty-ninth week.
Today’s topic is The Spanish Main from 1945. Over a month ago, we bought a Maureen O’Hara four film collection on DVD at Barnes and Noble. Soon after, I joined the Hispanic Heritage Blogathon. When trying to choose a topic, I hoped to combine my article with my new Code film for the week. I looked at the Maureen O’Hara collection and saw that one of the films was entitled The Spanish Main. Since this period piece involves Spanish settlers in the Caribbean and a Mexican leading lady, I decided that it would be a good topic. We watched this film on Monday.
A Dutch ship headed for the new world is shipwrecked on a Caribbean coast, the Spanish main. When the captain goes before the mayor of Cartagena, the town there, he asks him if he and his remaining countrymen may acquire a new ship to reach America. However, the latter proves to be a ruthless tyrant, who offers to make the shipwrecked Dutch folks slaves in his land. When the captain expresses his outrage, he is sentenced to death. As the brave young man waits in prison, he meets three other innocent foreigners who were imprisoned by the tyrant for no good reason, an Englishman, a Frenchman, and a mute whose power of speech was taken by brutal torture. The four men escape from prison. Five years later, the mayor is plagued by a daring pirate known only by the name of his ship who has been pillaging his ships. However, the stubborn man is distracted from these problems by the fact that he is expecting his bride, the daughter of a Mexican nobleman, to arrive in a few days. Meanwhile, the beautiful young woman is on a boat, accompanied by a kind bishop who is her confidante and lady’s maid and friend. The sheltered young woman can’t help being fascinated by a handsome Dutch navigator aboard the ship. When she talks to him on the deck, he gets too familiar, so she calls for help. The ship’s captain wants to have him hanged, but she suggests that he just be flogged instead. While his punishment is being exacted, the ship of the brutalist pirate in the Caribbean comes into view. The pirates board, and a vicious fight ensues. As the battle ends, the brave noblewoman confronts the pirate captain who boarded the ship. Much to her surprise, she discovers that he is only the assistant to the real captain, who is the Dutch navigator! To keep the pirates from attacking their escort ship, the young lady agrees to marry the pirate captain. He is delighted to take her as his bride by choice rather than by force, since he feels that this is the ultimate way of revenging himself against his enemy, the cruel mayor. They are married by the bishop, but he treats her very respectfully. The next day, the ship sails to an island which is a resting place for pirates. There, he is reunited with his best friend, a female pirate who is insanely jealous when she learns that he is married. She isn’t the only one who doesn’t like his marriage. A disgruntled rival pirate captain wants the pirate council to order him to give up his bride, but the Dutch pirate is very stubborn. Thus, the council takes matters into its own hands. Will the pirate satisfy his desire for revenge and make his life decent again, perhaps to make his vengeful union a real marriage?
The Dutchman who becomes a pirate is Laurent Van Horn, also known as the Barracuda, played by Paul Henreid. The Mexican noblewoman he captures and marries is Contessa Francesca, played by Maureen O’hara. The tyrant who rules the Spanish main with an iron fist and is engaged to Contessa Francesca is Don Juan Alvarado, played by Walter Slezak. The female pirate who is Laurent’s best friend is Anne Bonney, played by Binnie Barnes. Laurent’s right hand man is Capt. Mario Du Billar, played by John Emery. The bishop who is Francesca’s traveling companion and confidante is played by Fritz Leiber. Francesca’s friend and lady’s maid is Lupita, played by Nancy Gates. The Englishman who escapes from prison with Laurent is Pillery Gow, played by J. M. Kerrigan. The Frenchman is Paree, played by Curt Bois. The mute is Erik Swaine, played by Mike Mazurki. The rival pirate captain is Benjamin Black, played by Barton MacLane. The captain of Francesca’s ship is played by Victor Kilian.
This movie was directed by Frank Borzage. The executive producer was Robert Fellows. The associate producer was Stephen Ames. The production company was RKO Radio Pictures. The screenplay was written by George Worthing Yates and Herman J. Mankiewicz. The original story was written by Aeneas MacKenzie. This film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Color Cinematography for George Barnes.
This is a good Code film. It is a great example of a dramatic, action-packed film which doesn’t cross the line in terms of acceptability, particularly in regard to violence. Despite the fact that there are many prolonged battles and duels, the rules are obeyed. No corpses are shown with the eyes open, and very few characters are shown clearly after death. Injuries and killings during fights are very delicately shown. When Laurent is flogged, it is tastefully offscreen. The most graphic detail is that numerous swords are red after battles. However, this is a point on which watchers should be forewarned without a particular caution. It must be assumed that there will be some action, if not violence, in a swashbuckling film. If you don’t like swordfights and possible duels, don’t watch that kind of a movie! Fortunately, very little blood is shown on people. Another delicate point which I appreciate is the depiction of the wedding night. In the ship’s cabin, Laurent talks to Francesca as she puts on her nightgown, but the camera focuses on him rather than on her. Then, he kisses her and gently puts her into the single bed. Then, he leaves. I’ll admit that the filmmakers had me worried there for a few minutes, but they quickly proved that they were mindful of the PCA’s watchful eye. Rather than depict a suggestive wedding night where a brutish pirate demands his marital rights from an unwilling and defenseless bride, this scene shows a refined gentleman turned to a life of piracy after his ship’s ruin who chivalrously respects his bride’s privacy and leaves her room without being asked! If pirates even behave this well in Code films, it shows how high the standard for gentlemanly conduct was!
I think this is an excellent film! It is a very enjoyable adventure film, filled with excitement and suspense. The acting is superb. Paul Henreid is very dramatic and attractive in his portrayal of the charming pirate. Before this, I only had seen this actor in Now, Voyager from 1941, as well as his most famous role, Victor Laszlo in Casablanca from 1943. Although he is very good in both of these films, it wasn’t until I saw him as the Dutch pirate that I thought of him as an attractive leading man. In this role, he succeeds at being a masterful and polite gentleman who is very likeable despite being a pirate, since he is seeking revenge against a despicable villain. Maureen O’Hara is very good in the role of the refined Mexican noblewoman. She looks lovely in this role. She makes Francesca seem genuinely torn in her feelings toward Laurent. Although she finds him fascinating, her proper upbringing makes her shocked when he is forward with her. Walter Slezak is convincingly despicable as the merciless Alvarado. He was an actor who was excellent at playing ruthless tyrants as well as shifty shysters and even likeable mischief-makers. I was very impressed by Binnie Barnes’s performance in this fictional version of famous real-life pirate Anne Bonney. She both looks and acts the role with energy and gusto, creating a rugged yet sympathetic female swashbuckler. The rest of the cast is also very good. The Technicolor is beautiful and vivid; it adds to the atmosphere of the film very nicely. The costumes are very historically accurate and flattering to the actors. The score is a stirring accompaniment which supports the action consistently; it remains one of the most appreciated elements of this film.
I highly recommend this film to my viewers. It is not only a great pirate film but a great adventure movie. It has romance which will appeal to sentimentalists as well as the action which adventure fans will appreciate. The cinematography is beautiful, and the dialogue is well-written. As I mentioned in my notes about its Code compliance, The Spanish Main is so delicate with its action-filled sequences that it remains exciting without being too graphic or disturbing for sensitive viewers of all ages. An interesting fact about this film is that the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland was based on this swashbuckling adventure years before Jack Sparrow set sail! The next time you crave a pirate-filled adventure, whether it be via a Johnny Depp film or at “the happiest place on earth,” you can get a taste of piratical reveling, pistol duels, and canon battles between ships with this 1945 movie!
For the Blogathon
This article is my entry in Hollywood’s Hispanic Heritage Blogathon, which is being hosted by Aurora of Once Upon a Screen. She hosts this celebration of Hispanic culture, history, and artists in the film industry every fall in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15). Although this film doesn’t have any Hispanic actors, it has Hispanic themes. Firstly, the film is laid in a Spanish settlement in the Caribbean. The mayor of Cartagena is far from a credit to the Spanish community, but most of the other Hispanic characters are loyal and brave. Among them is Francesca, the heroic leading lady. Although she was played by an Irish actress, she is full of the proud and fiery spirit which embodied Spanish woman. She is often accompanied by her Duenas, a system of chaperoning for young ladies which I greatly admire. Her two companions, the wise Bishop and the faithful ladies’ maid, are also Spaniards who are settling the new world. This film pays homage to the part which Hispanic people had in civilizing the Americas and the Caribbean islands. Happy Hispanic Heritage month! I am happy to join this celebration, as I am one-eighth Mexican myself. Viva el Code!
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Come back in October for the third year of our annual Code celebration, The Third Annual Breening Blogathon! It is running from October 11-14 in honor of Joseph I. Breen’s 131st birthday. Whether you want to breen a film, review a new Code movie, or analyze some aspect of the years when Hollywood was governed by the Code, this is your chance to write about the topics which we always cover. What are your thoughts on the Code? This is your chance to play PCA-member or pretend that you are a member of PEPS. Let’s make this our most successful blogathon yet!
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