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The Master of Ballantrae (1953) – Errol Flynn’s Final Pirate Outing

the-master-of-ballantrae-movie-poster-1953-1020250173The Master of Ballantrae is not technically a pirate movie, but I think Errol Flynn’s character is a pirate long enough for it to count, making this movie his fourth pirate film and him the indisputable king of swashbuckling piracy (his other pirate movies were Captain Blood (1935), The Sea Hawk (1940), and Against All Flags (1952)).

The movie was adapted from Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Master of Ballantrae: A Winter’s Tale, which I have not read, but understand to be a bit more grim than the film, about two feuding brothers during the Jacobite Rebellion. In the movie, the feuds more of a misunderstanding than anything else. Errol Flynn is Jamie Durie, the Master of Ballantrae. He is engaged to the love of his life, Lady Alison (Beatrice Campbell), but also visits local girl Jessie Brown (Yvonne Furneaux) on the side. His brother, Henry (Anthony Steele) is a much more phlegmatic, quiet and responsible man.

When Bonnie Prince Charlie arrives in Scotland (Charles, grandson of the deposed James II, of the House of Stuart), much of the country takes up arms with him in an attempt to invade England and put Charles on the throne. However, Jamie and Henry’s father decides that in order to ensure the survival of the estate, only one son should fight for the Stuarts and the other should stay home as a ‘loyal’ subject of King George II. Jamie wins the coin toss and sets out to fight the English.

It all goes very badly, however, and he is on the run and runs into fellow another fugitive, the flamboyant Colonel Francis Burke (Roger Livesey). They become bosom friends on the toss of a coin. If the coin had turned up the other way, they would have fought to the death for the roast chicken. But when the two of them return to Ballantrae, things really go south. The British are crawling over the countryside and Jamie is betrayed by Jessie Brown out of jealousy over his love for Lady Alison. Jamie, however, believes that Henry did it so he could be master and marry Alison himself.

The plaid pants are even worse in color - Beatrice Campbell, Errol Flynn and Roger Livesey

The plaid pants are much worse in color – Jamie makes love to Lady Alison while Burke is anxious to be off

After Jamie is shot and stabbed and such, the friends leave England, get shanghaied on a ship to the West Indies, meet up with the dandy pirate Captain Arnaud (Jacques Berthier), contrive to steal a Spanish Galleon, contend with piracy and betrayal, and finally return to Scotland to deal with brother Henry.

It’s not a terrible movie at all. In fact, it’s rather fun, if you can overlook the extremely annoying and intrusive narrator who breaks into the story every twenty minutes to explain things that are readily apparent even to the most casual viewer. Did we really need to be told Arnaud was a dandy? You can see the moment he first comes into view!

The Master of Ballantrae came later in Flynn’s career – he would only live another six years – and he doesn’t have the dash and energy of his youth (there appears to be a stunt double used often), but he still brings an enthusiasm and sense of fun to the role as only he can. He fights in castles and on pirate ships, makes love to several different women, joshes with Burke, schemes, escapes from a castle and broods on revenge. He also has a pretty rough movie, getting knocked out at least three times, shot, stabbed with a knife and run through with a sword several times… and almost hanged. I don’t recall Robin Hood having nearly this much trouble.

Annex - Flynn, Errol (Master of Ballantrae, The)_01Roger Livesey (The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp and I Know Where I’m Going!) as Colonel Francis Burke, the “talkative Irishman,” is a hoot and he appears to be having nearly as much fun as is possible. He fights with elan, grins and makes comments, and is devoted to his friend Jamie. It’s almost a buddy picture, really. He’s also the only person who sounds faintly like he could be Scottish, even if he is playing an Irishman and is actually Welsh. Everyone else sounds either American or British (though technically Flynn is Australian).

The most entertaining part of the film involves the pirates, their time on the ships and at Tortugas Bay, where they meet another flamboyant pirate called Captain Mendoza (Charles Goldner) who has a red beard. I occasionally get a craving to see a swashbuckler or pirate movie, but am leery of beating the few I have to death by too much viewing, so it is fun to see something new and Master of Ballantrae fits the bill. Everyone seems to having a good time (according to the article on TCM, everyone was having a good time and it was an unusually happy and stress-free set), the action is exciting enough and the camaraderie between Flynn and Livesey is great.

Master of Ballantrae was the first movie Bob Anderson worked on and all the fights are choreographed by him, as in this fight between Jamie and the treacherous Captain Arnaud, with help from stunt double Flynn.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2015 in Adventure

 

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The Bride of Lammermoor – Sir Walter Scott

Henry_Gillard_Glindoni01I’ve read that The Bride of Lammermoor is quite different from Sir Walter Scott’s usual books, but since the only other one I’ve read is Ivanhoe I can’t say if that’s true. The Bride of Lammermoor is much shorter, though, and Gothic, romantic, and mystical. There are a lot of comparisons to be made with Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

It was published in 1819, but the story is set sometime in the late sixteen hundreds. Edgar, Master of Ravenswood, has lost his ancestral lands (rather, his father lost them because he supported James VII of Scotland, who was also James II of England – the king who was ousted during the Glorious Revolution in 1688). The new owner of the Ravenswood estate is Sir William Ashton, a malleable and shrewd lawyer who always has his finger to the political wind.

Ravenswood is a stern and fierce young man who desires to revenge himself on Sir William and now lives in the tower of Wolfscrag, which was once a fortress and looms over the ocean in dilapidated, Gothic splendor. However, instead of revenging himself, he saves Sir William and his daughter, Lucy Ashton, from attack by some kind of wild cow and Lucy and Edgar fall in love. The two engage themselves secretly, despite deep forebodings from an old former servant of Ravenswood’s named Alice, various portends (a dead raven falls at Lucy’s feet when they engage themselves to each other) and a warning from Ravenswood’s one remaining servant, Caleb.

Sir William is not actually entirely opposed to the match, since it is possible that Ravenswood’s uncle, the Marquis of A_______(we never do find out what the A________ stands for) might be able to raise Ravenswood up when his political party regains power in the Scottish parliament. But Lady Ashton is opposed. As soon as she arrives in the story, Sir William almost completely disappears, becoming a henpecked, ineffectual husband. Lady Ashton reminds many people of Lady Macbeth, although she does not love her husband as Lady Macbeth did; but she is the driving force behind him, the one he listens to, who is willing to stop at very little to get what she wants. And what she does not want is for Lucy to marry Ravenswood; she wants her to marry another young man called Bucklaw. She sets out, therefore, quite deliberately, to break her daughters resolution to honor her betrothal to Ravenswood and if breaking her resolution means breaking her mind, Lady Ashton does not balk.

The book ends in tragedy, madness, death, stabbing, and broken family lines. However, despite the inevitable sense of tragedy, it is not a depressing read. The chief fun comes from Ravenswood’s devoted family servant, Caleb Balderstone. He will do anything to keep up the family honor, including lying, stealing, and arson. It is always a source of amused suspense to both the reader and to Ravenswood to see how Caleb will find Ravenswood’s next meal or provide for his guests or excuse his lack of provisions or even prevent Ravenswood from having guests so that no one will know the extreme poverty Ravenswood has been reduced to. But his devotion is touching because of his genuine concern for his master, as well as the family honor.

Charles_Robert_Leslie_-_Sir_Walter_Scott_-_Ravenswood_and_Lucy_at_the_Mermaiden's_Well_-_Bride_of_LammermoorScott seems to be drawing, self-consciously, from “Macbeth.” They are both tales in Scotland, there is a woman who is the power behind the husband who causes most of the evil, there are mighty storms with thunder and rain, specters appear, and Scott even has three old women like the three Weird Sisters in “Macbeth,” though Scott’s three women are being led by one, Ailsie Gourlay, who seems to know who is marked out for death and even helps Lady Ashton to poison Lucy’s mind.

The book ends up being part Gothic, part comic, and also part political as people scheme to be part of the winning party while such troublemakers as Craigengelt tries to persuade Bucklaw and Ravenswood to assist the exiled James II in France. It was a little hard to follow all the political aspects, but it didn’t fundamentally diminish my understanding of the story. Another difficult aspect of the book is the language. Many of the Scottish characters, such as Caleb and Ailsie Gourlay and Alice, speak in a Scottish dialect that is hard to decipher.

The books central couple make a very curious romantic pair, because they are not particularly suited. She is romantic-minded (she loves the stories, myths and legends) and very meek and pliable. He is stern, proud and energetic. They seem bound to each other less because they love each other (they hardly know each other), but because in a moment of heady-emotion, they became betrothed. She is sticking to it for the romance of it and he because he is honorable.

One complaint I do have is that the book appears to be rushed at the end. Just when the book should be getting most dramatic is when it wraps up. Plot Spoilers! When Lucy goes mad and stabs her husband Bucklaw and when Ravenswood dies afterwards, it is recounted almost as if it were a postscript. However, it is still not a story that is easily forgotten; it seems to imprint itself very clearly on the imagination. End Plot Spoiler.

Walter Scott is said to have derived the story from life and it was a story that Scott heard from many different people, including his mother, and he always thought that his mother told it particularly well. He was worried that the story would lose something in translation from an oral story to a written one. He thought a full-length novel wouldn’t have nearly the impact of, as he put it, a story told in thirty minutes by the fire. I see what he means. Sometimes, when a story captures our imagination, it can be hard to actually do it justice in a novel, where you have to provide so many more details that you do not have to provide in an oral tale. I think the power of his story is more in the story than in the actual writing – though there is nothing wrong with his writing; it is skillfully amusing and evocative. However, this might be why there are many details that seem to get lost in the book that Scott neglects to give us, like why Ravenswood does not receive Lucy’s letters, but suddenly gets them later. This is a story, not about details or human motivations, but about the romance of the story itself. It is a book that cries out to be read during the evening or night, on a rainy day, or during a storm.

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2014 in Fiction

 

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I Know Where I’m Going!

thNVF8TBYF1945 – Directed by Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell – Written by Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell – Starring Wendy Hiller and Roger Livesey

I recently watched a very sweet British film that was made when people knew that WWII was going to come to a favorable end. I Know Where I’m Going! was produced, directed, and written by Emeric Pressburger and Michael Powell (their production company was called The Archers and they made 19 films together). It was filmed while they were waiting for Technicolor cameras to be available so they could film a different movie. Now that the war was coming to an end, they wanted to remind their audience of the things that really mattered and were worried about excess commercialism.

The result was a lovely film about unexpected love and individualism. It takes place in the Hebrides, islands off the west coast of Scotland, where myth and history is still close to the people who live there – they wear their kilts, dance their reels, play bagpipes, know their own folklore and history, sing their songs, are very connected to their home, and do it all with wonderful good humor.

The movie opens with a brief montage about Joan Webster, growing up – who knew exactly where she was going and how she was going to get there. Once a young woman, she announces to her father that she is going to marry Sir Robert Bellinger, who is the head of Consolidated Chemical Industries. Her father protests that she can’t marry a corporation and she says that she can. They plan to wed on a small island in the Hebrides called Kiloran. She travels the long way from London, taking a train, ferry, and taxi, only to get stranded by bad weather, just a short boat trip across from Kiloran, where her fiancé is waiting.

9178bf99a5bb5bb86e98a7e46a5afcd2[1]Also waiting to cross to Kiloran is Torquil MacNeil, who is on leave from the Navy. He is very friendly, and likes her a lot, but she has no intention of letting anything keep her from getting to her destination. When the bad weather continues, however, she spends more time with Torquil and he begins to gently, but definitely, try to win her. And although she knows she is falling in love with him, she is also determined to stick with her original plan and becomes desperate enough to avoid him that she attempts the crossing in the spite of the danger.

One thing that really makes this a gentle story is what a thoroughly nice guy Torquil is. He has no hang-ups about anything, is never critical of her (except when she puts herself and someone else in danger) or her rich fiancé. He is a kind man and when he makes a comment about how she is always the lady, she says she can’t change herself and he replies that he likes her as she is.

JE-SAIS-OU-JE-VAIS-I-KNOW-WHERE-I-M-GOING-1945_portrait_w858[1]In a humorous aside on how identified he is with his corporation, we never actually meet the fiancé (though we hear his voice), so there are no overt caricatures of the pompous rich business man to distract. The real obstacle in the movie is Joan’s own willfulness. Torquil’s friend, Catriona, is just managing to keep her home running (much of her food was eaten when the British army stayed there for several years) and goes out to shoot rabbits for dinner. She does not dismiss that money would be useful to have, but tells Joan she keeps on because there are certain things more important.

According to Paul Byrne, in his excellent article that explores the movie, on Sense of Cinema, Michael Powell, who did the bulk of the writing, loved Scotland and it is obvious in the movie and is one of it’s main charms. Much of the filming is done in Scotland, with the rest being filmed in a London studio.

TCM also features a wonderful article about the making of the film. It talks about how James Mason turned down the role and how Roger Livesey was doing a play in London and was unable to do any filming in Scotland, so all his scenes were actually shot in London, though I never noticed when I was watching.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2014 in Movies

 

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