3 July 2001 | eunicem
A sadly overlooked gem
One can only be thankful that Disney did not get hold of Richard Hughes' novel. The saccharine sweetness would have made one gag. The only disappointment that I had with the film was that it did not follow the book. Otherwise, this was a superb film in its own right. Anthony Quinn proved that he could play other characters than Zorba, an often overlooked fact.
The children were so prim and Victorian "proper" that their conflict with the pirates. or privateers, as they preferred to call themselves, was at time hilarious. My favorite scenes were when the children, who were on the ship for months without any means of amusing themselves other than their own devices, spooked the crew with various innocent or mischievous plays, such as pretending to do a burial at sea, and turning around the head of the ships figurehead so that it faced backwards. The superstitious sailors were terrified by what was really childish mischievous fun.
When the ship put into Tampico, where the Captain hoped to leave them behined with the local Madame, played by Lila Kedrova who seemed to have taken acting lessons from Carmen Miranda, the children were spruced up and returned to their clean clothes and with their hair combed. As the crew member doing the grooming explained: "the Captain wants you to look your best for the ladies". "What ladies?" asked the children. Under his breath the seaman muttered "You'll find out." Of course, the local ladies were the ladies of ill repute in a Godforsaken part of the Carribean where anything goes and the law would never set foot.
The beauty of the film is that it rises above the mawkish semtimentally that it could have fallen into. The Captain, Chavez, takes to the young girl, Emily, who is as feisty as they come, and she and the other children take to him. A Victorian version of the Stockholm syndrome where the captives idenity with their captors.
The story is a tragedy, as the pirates who after all, were simply making a living in the only way they knew. It wasn't even a profitable living, just a traditional, but dying, occupation. Suddenly they were stuck with some ill-disciplined little English children travelling to England to be paced in English boarding schools and "civilised", and neither side really understood the other. It was the misunderstanding that caused the problems and led to the final tragedy.
I would recommend this film to people who like to think and ponder over what is right and what is wrong, and from what perspective do we view right and wrong.