15 August 2003 | sep1051
Lesser Errol Flynn
Although I have seen a monumental number of films, The Master Of Ballantrae had managed to escape my viewing until recently. I expected that it would not be of the same quality as Captain Blood or other Errol Flynn hits or else it would have been shown as much as they are. This is exactly what it turned out to be, a watchable but lower quality film. Scottish laird Jamie Durrisdeer (Errol Flynn) leaves his father Lord Durrisdeer (Felix Aylmer), younger brother Henry (Anthony Steel), and fiancee Lady Alison (Beatrice Campbell) to go fight the English. Defeated in battle he is pursued back to the family castle accompanied by a talkative Irish mercenary Colonel Francis Burke (Roger Livesey). Their hiding place betrayed, Jamie and Col, Burke must flee. Jamie believes that his brother has betrayed him to the English in order to inherit the family estate. However the snitch is revealed to be Jamie's spurned lover Jessie Brown (Yvonne Furneaux). Jamie and Col. Burke hope to sail to France, with smuggler MacCauley (Moultrie Kelsell), but he, in turn cheats them by sailing to the Caribbean. There the ship is taken by colorful French pirate Arnaud (Jacques Berthier). Just as you would guess Arnaud can see uses for Jamie and makes him a "partner" despite the doubts of Arnaud's second in command Matthew Bull (Francis DeWolff). In a clever plot twist, since you don't really want our hero to victimize innocent people, they set out to rob the booty of another pirate, Mendoza (Charles Goldner). Afterward there is the, to be expected, falling out between Jamie and Arnaud, the fight and Jamie's ultimate victory. Jamie, with Col. Burke, returns home a richer man but still wanted by the English. There he finds that Henry, believing him dead, is courting Lady Alison. Following a battle with the English, misunderstandings are cleared up, love prevails and our heroes escape to live happily ever after. Ah, only in movies! The above highlights what is best about the film, which is that it keeps moving, with a lot of action for only 90 minutes running time. Also the locales, in Scotland and Spain (filling in for the Caribbean) are very scenic. However there are three significant problems which stop this film from becoming an "A" picture. First, as noted in many other comments, Errol Flynn is showing the wear of his lifestyle. In his best pictures he displayed vitality, a dazzling smile and mocked his enemies. Here he is tired, broody and uninspired. However, in his defense, he may also of had other things on his mind. While making this film, he was preparing to produce his next picture, William Tell. If you don't recall that movie it's for good reason because Errol Flynn, after starting production, could never find sufficient funding to complete the film. Secondly, there is no central villain, a la Basil Rathbone et al, in this movie. The English are gentlemen who, thinking they've killed the escaping Jamie, go out of their way to apologize to his father for having to do so. We know that his brother did not betray him (it would have created more dramatic tension if the script had hidden his betrayer until Jamie and Col. Burke return to Scotland). The smuggler who waylays them has only one or two scenes. Only Arnaud generates any interest. Thirdly, there is no sex. OK so there is no sex in any 1953 films but Beatrice Campbell generates none of the interest that say Maureen O'Hara or even Olivia De Haviland possessed. Yvonne Furneaux does create more energy but there is something uncomfortable about her scenes, as her character is grabbing at Jamie, for attention, and he is blithely looking the other way. Having waited this long to see The Master Of Ballantrae would I see it again. The answer is definitely yes but I am more likely to first see Captain Blood or Robin Hood five or ten times more.