14 May 2011 | brendangcarroll
Second Rate Swashbuckler
Paul Henreid apparently wanted his home studio Warner Brothers to make this, but in 1944, that studio was firmly committed to making large -scale war films, and besides, its number one star was Errol Flynn who was (and is) THE swashbuckler. So Henreid took it to RKO and, through a contractual sleight of hand, negotiated his release from Warners to make it at this normally low-budget studio. He should not have bothered.
The main problem with the film is that its central role is miscast. Henreid is both too effete and a bit too old for the part, and next to Miss O'Hara (who as usual, looks ravishing in colour) rather bland and lifeless. He is also clearly doubled in some of the duels.
The music score by Hanns Eisler (a surprising choice) is gestural note-spinning with not one memorable theme to sweep us along. He should have watched The Sea Hawk and listened to Korngold's thrilling score to see how this should be done.
As usual, Walter Slezak effortlessly steal every scene he is in and is a delight. When he is not on screen, the film sags. No wonder he was cast in so many similar roles in the 1940s.
This was RKO's first colour film but most prints I have seen are very poor - either faded, or overly gaudy as a result of the three-strip technicolor separations becoming unstable and running together. It is unlikely to be restored as I doubt the original elements survive.
The ingredients were all there but refused to gel somehow. Maybe if Jack Warner had said yes, it might have been better - and Korngold would have jumped at the chance I am sure! The supporting cast is full of familiar faces (J.M.Kerrigan, Jack La Rue, Curt Bois, Mike Mazurki, Antonio Moreno) and they provide some badly needed substance in this weak entry in the genre.