18 September 2011 | oldblackandwhite
Hammer Picks Up Fallen Hollywood Banner With Old Time Swashbuckler
By the early 1960's Hollywood movies had lost their magic touch, due to collapse of the big studio systems, death and retirement of key actors, directors, and other personnel. Pandering to teenagers and others of the lowest mentality and morality hastened the end of whatever potential for quality productions was left in Tensil Town. The occasional good one such as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) was the fading work of old actors and old directors, a rare oasis in what had become an entertainment desert. American movie makers just couldn't make them like they used to, or at least they wouldn't. It is no wonder then that British pictures, previously regarded as crude, poor cousins of Hollywood productions, enjoyed a height of popularity with American movie audiences during this period.
The leader in providing entertainment-starved Statesiders with entertaining pictures from Albion was Hammer Film Productions, ensconced in a Thames-side country manor upriver from London. Lush sets provided by the palatial manor house and its expansive grounds, talented matte artists, and a special touch with color let Hammer produce handsome, classy looking movies while operating on the cheap. Most of the studio's production were horror thrillers, but the mad geniuses at Hammer, could turn out an old time adventure costumer with the same glossy, high production treatment given the blood-sucking Count and the monster-making Barron.
Rousing, old time swashbuckling adventure is exactly what Devil Ship Pirates dishes up. It starts with an intriguing story line, shot-up privateer galleon from the defeated Spanish Armada in 1588 beaches on the English coast, and its crew of scummy pirates proceeds to terrorize good Queen Bess's good subjects in a nearby village, deceiving them with the lie that the Spanish have won. Christopher Lee, Hammer's master of menace, is terrific, even without fangs, as the ruthless, indomitable captain of the wicked pirates. He dominates this movie as much and is almost as frightening as he ever was as Dracula! John Cairney makes a bland but admirable hero as the one-armed English blacksmith's son willing to resist the pirates. More dashing is Barry Warren as an enigmatic Spanish nobleman and army officer on board with the pirates but ultimately not in tune with their evil plans. Solid support comes from Andrew Keir, Duncan Lamont, Michael Ripper, and Michael Newport, as a very spunky English boy. Suzan Farmer is on hand as the cleavage lass one came to expect from Hammer. Don Sharp's direction is on target, Jimmy Sangster's aforementioned story intelligent, editing and cinematography fluid. As with all Hammer numbers, Eastman Color is made to look almost as good as the highly superior but by this time practically abandoned three-strip Technicolor. No other studio ever did so well with Eastman Color.
The spirited action, which includes lots of well-executed sword play, is almost non-stop. The actors in this picture obviously had many fencing lessons, and Christopher Lee was an artist with a rapier! So much action is crammed into 89 minutes running time, it leaves you feeling as if it were over two hours. And you always know who to root for, as there is no relativist blurring of the line between good and evil here. This element, as was always understood at Hammer and had once been understood in Hollywood, is crucial to making a story entertaining.
Devil Ship Pirates is a top notch, old time, costume adventure entertainment -- perhaps not up with one of Old Hollywood's better Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power swashbucklers, but better than most offered by the shell of its former self Hollywood had become by the 1960's.