Captain Blood (1935)




Director: Michael Curtiz

Starring:     Errol Flynn (Peter Blood),  Olivia de Havilland (Arabella Bishop),  Lionel Atwill (Col. Bishop),  Basil Rathbone (Levasseur),  Ross Alexander (Jeremy Pitt),  Guy Kibbee (Hagthorpe),  Henry Stephenson (Lord Willoughby),  Robert Barrat (Wolverstone),  Hobart Cavanaugh (Dr. Bronson),  Donald Meek (Dr. Whacker),  Jessie Ralph (Mrs. Barlow),  Forrester Harvey (Honesty Nuttall).

A fictional character, but the movie is a good swashbuckler and it is set in the historic time of the transition from the reign of King James II and the reign of William and Mary.  And it also deals with pirating and the ports of Port Royal, Jamaica and the pirate haven of Tortuga (north of present-day Haiti).   


Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.

England 1685.  A notice on a wall is titled:  "Loyal sons of England down with the usurper!  To arms!"  It speaks of the decease of their Sovereign Lord Charles II and the succession. 

In the middle of the night a man gallops his horse to the home and office of Dr. Peter Blood and hurriedly knocks at the door.  Blood answers the door and sees that it is Jeremy Pitt.  Pitt says that Blood's friend Lord Gildoy was wounded at Andrew Baynes' farm by the river.  Blood goes to get ready to go.  A woman across the street asks Pitt how did the battle go and he says it was more like a slaughter, clubs against cannons.  Mrs. Barlow criticizes Blood for not being involved in the fighting.  Blood disagrees, saying it is foolish to even attempt to put the Duke of Monmouth on the throne.  The man would be worse than King James.  She says even his defenders say he is a coward.  Blood explains that he fought for the French against the Spanish and the Spanish against the French.  He learned to be a sailor in the Dutch Navy.  But after six years of this, he came to England to be a doctor.  Now he is a healer and not a slayer. 

While Blood bandages his friend up, the King's men arrive.  Captain Hobart of Col. Kirke's dragoons comes in to announce himself.  Blood is not worried about the soldiers, but he should be, because Capt. Hobart arrests Blood, Pitt and the others in the house for giving aid and comfort to the enemy. 

"For many weeks Royal Army 'Drumhead' courts-martial took a fearful toll and the executioners were busy with rope and chopper and cauldrons of pitch, until public opinion revolted.  Then the survivors were headed toward Taunton Castle Hall and their trial."  Blood and many others are charged with high treason.  Most of the men tell the court that they are guilty, but Blood says he is entirely innocent.  He speaks to the court protesting against keeping an innocent man in jail for three months amid filth, heat and ill-feeding.  The problem is that the law doesn't allow for Blood's good deeds.  Blood tells the judge:  "What a creature must sit on the throne, who lets a man like you deal out his justice." 

James II receives Sunderland who complains about the all too numerous hangings.  But the king is happy with the hangings.  He says:  "We kill the rebels, we kill the rebellion."  Sunderland tells the king that the West Indies are urgently in need of slaves, so why can't the men be spared from hanging and sent to the West Indies?  The king thinks it's a wonderful idea. 

"Thus, by a king's whim, Peter Blood became one of a cargo of human chattel, exiled from England forever, shipped to Port Royal and English colony, to be sold into slavery."

As they approach Port Royal, Jamaica, Blood comments that the gracious King James II saves them from death by hanging, for a life of living death as slaves.  They will be sold into slavery for ten years.  The new slaves are taken off the ship to be sold.  The governor of Port Royal arrives.  Now they only have to wait for Col. Bishop to arrive so the selling can begin.  The colonel arrives with his pretty niece Arabella.  Arabella wants her uncle to buy all the slaves to keep them out of the hands of the cruel Dixon. 

Col. Bishops picks out some men who  he pays 20 pounds apiece for.  He doesn't pick Blood because he is a bit too deviant.  But Arabella has taken a liking to him and wants to save him from going to the mines to work for Dixon.  Uncle says no to his niece.  Dixon only offers 5 pounds for Blood, so Arabella offers 6 for him.  She keeps raising her offer until she gets to 10 pounds and Dixon doesn't offer 11 pounds.  Blood is sold to Arabella. 

Arabella hopes Blood will be grateful to her, but he is still defiant.  She gets a bit offended and tells him to join her father's group of slaves and take his orders from Col. Bishop.  Blood doesn't end up in Dixon's mines, but his treatment is not that much better.  The slaves are lashed with whips to make them work.  Some men are placed in stocks and lashed many times.  Escapees who are caught are branded with the letters "FT" for Fugitive Traitor on their right cheek.  

The governor has a bad case of gout and his physicians are not much help to him.  He gets so mad at the two doctors that he throws them out of his house.  Arabella asks the governor's wife why not try another doctor.  She is thinking of Blood.  Then she starts laughing because she is thinking about how mad Peter Blood will be when he finds out she did him another favor. 

Two months later.  The governor listens to complaints of the citizens as Blood works on his right foot.  The governor gets up and discovers that he can walk again without crutches.  He is very pleased with Blood.  He says that from now on Peter Blood is his physician.  As he leaves the governor's house, Arabella says hello to him.  Blood says the governor told him that he owed this chance to show what he could do to Arabella.  Arabella comments that he doesn't seem very grateful.  Once again Blood is so defiant and filled with such righteous indignation that he offends Arabella. 

Blood goes to see the two doctors, Bronson and Whacker.  The two doctors don't want the competition and they both say that they would be willing to back Blood in the purchase of a small boat to leave the island.  As Blood leaves, he says:  "Gentlemen, you have opened for me the gates of hope!"  When he has gone, the two doctors say they can turn him into the governor.  Blood comes marching back in and warns them against any trickery, because in the eyes of the governor he is held in much higher esteem than his two colleagues. 

At night Blood talks about his plans to escape.  Nuttall will be purchasing a boat for the escapees.  The men will have to be ready to go when the time comes.  He says the crew will be green, but he things the men have the right spirit to make the escape work.  He then learns that quite a few of the escapees have already served in the navy or on a ship.  Blood is very pleased. 

Blood speaks with Nuttall about preparations for the escape.  From atop her horse Arabella watches Blood.  They are going to escape tonight.  Arabella comes down to the slave yards.  Her uncle catches Blood in a lie, but Arabella quickly covers for him saying he was with her.  They give Blood a horse and sent him off to tend to the governor who had another attack of the gout.  Blood takes off and soon afterwards Arabella follows him. 

Blood stops to speak with Arabella.  They talk about his reasons for resenting her.  The last one is probably the truest.  He resented her because she was so beautiful and he was a slave and couldn't have her. 

Meanwhile, uncle lashes Jeremy, who seemed so nervous, that uncle decided he was keeping some important secret from him.

Blood and Arabella get off their horses to talk some more.  She knows that he has been down by the boats and boats can sail away, but she is not going to tell on him.  He apologizes for thinking so badly of her.  She asks him what does he think of her now?  He kisses her and she slaps him for it.  Blood says as a slave he is grateful for every mark of favor given to him by his master.  He rides off to see the governor. 

Late at night Blood tries to sneak out from the governor's room while the governor is asleep.  The clock chimes the hours and the governor awakens.  He asks Blood to bleed him again.  Blood bleeds the governor and gets back to the stockade before midnight.  When he arrives he sees Jeremy still in the stocks.  He hurries over to him, gives him some water and then starts to treat his wounds.  Jeremy says that he did not tell Bishop of their plans.  Bishop comes out and finds the doctor tending to Jeremy.  Now they take Jeremy down and put Blood in his place.  Bishop starts to beat Blood with a rod, but an explosion stops the beating.  A guard shouts out:  "Spanish pirates!" 

"The timely interruption.  A Spanish ship, turned pirate, under the protection of the gold and crimson flag of King Philip of Spain." 

The people in the town run for cover.  As the battle rages, the men from the stockade come out to help Blood. 

"The town taken -- the Spaniards land to loot, pillage and celebrate in pirate fashion."  As the Spaniards celebrate, Blood tries to figure out how they will be able to get through town and to the boat.  A bunch of drunken, celebrating Spaniards come marching their way.  The men hide and then jump the Spaniards when they come by.  They go around the center of town and get to their boat, but find it sunk to the bottom of the port with the upper part on fire. 

Blood swims over to a Spanish boat.  The men get in it and row to the Spanish ship. The slaves climb up and over and get onto the deck that has no guard.  They go below and capture the Spaniards that are drunk and singing at a table. 

The Spanish commander tells the governor that his men are now in control of the town of Port Royal.  The commander also says that he will spare the city from burning if they will give them 200,000 pieces of eight.

The commander and his men get in their boat and start rowing to the ships.  As the boats approach the ship, the ship's cannon open up on them.    They sink every boat.  Colonel Bishop gets into a boat to negotiate with the men aboard the ship.  The men take Col. Bishop under their control.  The men want to hang him, but Blood tells the men to throw him over the side.  They do it.  From the water Col. Bishop says he will get the men one of these days. 

As Blood and his men leave, he thinks of the pretty Arabella.  At night the men say they will now be pirates.  It is June 1687. 

"And thus Captain Blood began his career of piracy with a ship, a handful of men, and a brain."

There are scenes of battle.  Captain Blood's name becomes the terror of the Caribbean.

Back in England, James II says:  "Blood!  This impertinent, ungoverned rascal must be eradicated."   He asks if Gov. Steed can do anything about it?  Sunderland tells the king that if Col. Bishop is made the new governor, Bishop will not rest until Blood is executed.  The king agrees to the new appointment. 

Arabella is going on holiday to England.  Gov. Bishop says goodbye to her. 

At night the guard yells out that an English ship approaches.  Blood wants to take the ship, but the men eating dinner with him say the men just want to get into Tortuga to spend their money.  The English ship learns that a possible pirate ship is in the vicinity.  But Blood has already decided to let the ship go on its way to England. 

"Tortuga, capitol of an easy-going colonial governor, haven of safety for all pirate craft, where easy money consorted with easy virtue. Here are met the crews of the two most renowned pirate captains  --  Peter Blood's crew and that of the hard fighting, hard-gaming French Rascal, Captain Levasseur."  The men are in a tavern having a good time.  The two infamous captains have a friendly shooting contest.  The two captains go into partnership.  The ships will scatter to pick up any stray ships they run into.  They will meet at the island of Virgen Magra.  It's all gaiety except that Blood says he's just made one of the biggest mistakes that any fool could make.  (He doesn't say what it is.)

England.  Arabella is returning to Jamaica.  Onboard ship she meets the special emissary from England, Lord Willoughby, whose job it is to blot out the pirate activity in the Caribbean,  He especially wants to find the wild rogue Captain Blood.  Arabella says she doesn't know the man.  A French ship approaches them.  They are near Virgen Magra.  Captain Levasseur and his men take the ship.  On the island of Virgen Magra the captain tells Willoughby and Arabella that the ransom for the two of them is 20,000 pieces of eight.  Willoughby will go to Col. Bishop to get the money, while the captain keeps Arabella with him. 

Captain Blood appears on the top of a high sand dune. He spots Arabella down below and tells the few men with him to pretend they do not know the niece of Col. Bishop.  Blood and his fellows go down to greet Captain Levasseur.  Bishop reminds the captain that there is an article against taking women as prisoners.   The French captain says the prisoners are his own personal property.  Blood says that violates the articles also.  He does some fast talking and buys the prisoners from the Frenchman. 

Levasseur is not happy about this and decides to sword fight for the prisoners.  Captain Blood kills Levasseur.  Over his body, Blood says:  "And that, my friend, ends a partnership that should never have begun."  Now it's Arabella's turn to be ungrateful.  She calls him a thief and pirate and wants none of his ill-gotten treasures.  She also says she hates and despises him.  Blood tells her that he owns her now and she will do what he wants. 

Willoughby wants to talk to Blood, but Blood says he will talk to no friend of the king.  He tells his men to set sail for Port Royal.  The men are not happen with the idea, since the English fleet is there.  The sailors say there's a gallows for each of the men at Port Royal. 

Willoughby tells Arabella that for a pirate Blood doesn't seem that bad of a fellow.  Arabella says she know pirates and they are beasts.  Willoughby tells her that Blood is taking them to Port Royal.  She is shocked and says:  "No, he can't!"   Willoughby says he is chivalrous to the point of idiocy. 

A delegation of the crew say they won't go to Port Royal and especially not for a woman. Blood bewilders them by agreeing to do what they want.  Now he has turned the tables on them by saying he is no longer Captain and awaits the orders of his men.  The guys decide to trust him and agree to head for Jamaica.  They spot Port Royal, but there is a naval battle raging there.  Willoughby pipes up and says the attacking ships are French ones because England and France are at war.   

Blood plans to put Willoughby and Arabella on a dock at Port Royal, but is not planning to fight off the French ships.  Willoughby objects to this saying that the king has offered to pardon Blood for his past crimes, to give him emancipation from slavery and  to commission him and his men in the royal navy.    Blood and his men, however, refuse to fight for King James II.  Willoughby now informs them that there is a new king:  King William.  The pardon is signed by the new king, not James.  Furthermore, James is now hiding in France.  Now Blood and his men rally to fight for England.  Blood tells the men to hoist the French flag. 

Miss Bishop is rowed to a dock in Port Royal.  She is not happy because she wanted a chance to talk with Captain Blood. 

Blood comes upon the French ships.  They strike the French flag and hoist their own colors.  Now they open fire on one of the French ships.  They fire hot coals and set the French ship afire.  The fires soon reach the ammunition dump and the ship blows up.   Now they start firing on the other French ship.  The French ship is ready for them and score a number of direct hits on the English ship which starts taking on water.  Their ship is sinking.  Blood tells his men they will board the French ship.  He tells his men to get up into the shrouds.  The next order is for the men to swing across into the French ship's rigging.  Grapnel hooks are thrown over and onto the French ship.  The two ships are pulled together.  The men swing over or jump over onto the French ship. 

Bloods cuts down the French flag, the sign for the men to drop down from the rigging.  Blood and his crew are victorious.  They raise a British flag. 

Gov. Bishop returns with three ships.  Arabella gets in her carriage to be driven to see her uncle.  She sees Captain Blood and stops to talk with him.  She begs him to hide, for her uncle will surely hang him.  Blood says he doesn't think he will.  Blood gets Arabella to say that not only does she not hate him, but she actually loves him.  Arabella says she will hide him.  Blood says they will hide together.  He takes her into the governor's office, sits down and puts his feet up on the desk.  Arabella pleads with him that they must go. 

Bishop is arrested.  He says they can't do this because he's the governor.  Willoughby tells Bishop that he's through, broken for having left his post in a time of war.  He also tells Bishop to go see the new governor for he will decide if Bishop hangs or not.  Bishop goes in and his mouth drops open when he learns that the new governor is none other than his old nemesis, Peter Blood.  Arabella sits in Blood's lap and the two smile at each other.  She even gives him a quick kiss.  Blood says to his nemesis:  "Good morning, uncle."


Good movie.  Lots of action, lots of the charming Errol Flynn as Captain Blood and a nice love story between characters Peter Blood and Arabella Bishop, as played by Olivia de Haviland.  (I just wish there was more happy time shown between the characters of Peter and Arabella.)  The film kept my interests throughout. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:

1493  -- discovery of Tortuga off the northwest coast of  today's Haiti. 

1494  -- Columbus discovers the future Jamaica.  Jamaica is southeast of Cuba and south west of Haiti. 

1554  -- first Spanish settlement on Jamaica, Sevilla, abandoned due to numerous pirate raids.

1625  --  French and English settlers arrived on Tortuga.

1629  --  on Tortuga the Spanish commanded by Don Fabrique de Toledo took the island and expelled the French and English. 

While the Spanish army was in Hispaniola, the French retook the fort on Tortuga.

1630  --  the French built Fort de Rocher on Tortuga.

1630 onward  --  Tortuga was divided into French and English colonies, both allowing pirates to use the island as their main base of operations.

1633  --  on Tortuga African slaves imported for the plantations.

1635  --  on Tortuga the use of slaves ended, because it was felt the slaves were getting out of control.

1635  --  on Tortuga the Spanish re-conquered the English and French colonies, but once again left, saying the island was too small to be of real use.  The pirates, English and French, returned.

1638  --  on Tortuga the Spanish returned, but were expelled by the French and Dutch colonists.

1645  --  on Tortuga the acting French governor imported about 1,650 prostitutes, hoping to calm the pirates a bit. 

latter half of 17th century  --  Port Royal, at the mouth of the Kingston Harbor, southeastern Jamaica, was the center of shipping commerce in the Caribbean Sea. 

1655  --  at Tower Isle, Jamaica the English took over the last Spanish fort.

1655  --  English Admiral William Penn (father of William Penn of Pennsylvania) and General Robert Venables seize Jamaica.

1660-1685   --  reign of King Charles II. 

by the 1670s  --  the majority of the people in Jamaica were black. 

By the year 1670  --  piratedom was in decline.  Many turned to the timber business. 

1670  --  seeing an opportunity, an English pirate asked the Tortuga pirates to sail with him.  The French, in turn, hired the Englishman, who led pirates to be a force to hold the French position in the Caribbean region.

1680  --  the English Parliament forbade sailing under foreign flags.

1684  --  the Treaty of Ratisbon, agreed to by the foreign powers, put an end to much of the piracy.  The former pirates were now hired to put down the hold-out pirates. 

1685-1688  --   reign of King James II. 

c. 1687  --  the golden age of buccaneers ended.

1688  --  the Glorious Revolution brings William and Mary to the English throne.

1689-1702  --  reign of King William III of William and Mary.    

1692 (June 7)  --  an earthquake destroyed Port Royal, Jamaica. Its commercial role was taken over by the city of Kingston.

1702-1707  --  reign of Queen Anne. 



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