25 July 2004 | F Gwynplaine MacIntyre
Cocky Clyde Cook's concertina concert
With a title like 'Captain Lash', I expected the 'Captain' to be genuine but the 'Lash' to be a nickname: I'd thought this would be a movie about a genuine sea captain, nicknamed 'Lash' for his cruelty. In the event, it was just the other way round: 'Lash' is genuine and 'Captain' is the nickname.
Victor McLaglen gives one of his trademark performances, this time as a ship's stoker named Lash whose workmates cry him 'Captain' for his authoritative manner. (Having worked on ships, I can vouch that no sea captain would permit any of the men serving under him to be nicknamed 'Captain'. A ship's dog or cat, maybe, but no ship can have two men cried 'Captain'.)
The mere fact that the central character is a ship's stoker brings this movie firmly into Eugene O'Neill territory. But now 'Captain Lash' begins to look like a rip-off of O'Neill's drama 'The Hairy Ape' as brawny stoker Lash attracts the attention of Cora Nevins, a swanky society dame who normally wouldn't give a lug like Lash a look. What gives, then?
What gives is that Cora, for all her fashionable clothes and her stylish blonde bobbed hair, is actually a cheap crook. To be precise: she's a jewel thief. One of the passengers on Lash's ship is wealthy Alex Condax, and Cora has twocked his stones ... his diamonds, I mean. She vamps 'Captain' Lash to help her get the diamonds off the ship at Singapore. Meanwhile, Lash has a girl in every port, and his whore ashore in Singapore is a brunette named Babe, so you just know she's trouble.
McLaglen (whom I always like) is good in this film, but he's upstaged by silent-film comedian Clyde Cook, who plays his cocky buddy Cocky. I'm prejudiced in Clyde Cook's favour, as I interviewed him shortly before his death, and he spoke very movingly to me about his long career. My favouritism aside, Cook gives a versatile performance here in a well-written role as McLaglen's sidekick. While Cook gives a po-faced recital on his concertina, the intertitles tell us that he's sending musical cues to his mate McLaglen. I only regret that Cook's role here gives him few chances to demonstrate his dazzling acrobatic slapstick talents. Clyde Cook - whose bill matter in vaudeville was 'The Kangaroo Boy' - was the only silent-film acrobat who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Buster Keaton, Al St John and Lupino Lane.
The direction (by the underrated John Blystone) and the camera set-ups are excellent. Arthur Stone is good as a crooked toff, but Claire Windsor and Jane Winton are not very effective in the female leads. I'll rate 'Captain Lash' 6 out of 10, largely for Clyde Cook's virtuoso performance.