The Master of Ballantrae (1953)

MasterOfBallantraePosterDid you know that Errol Flynn had a seedier, puffier, older brother also named Errol? Me neither, but he tried to follow in his more glamorous and roguish brother’s footsteps by starring in a movie about Scottish dudes getting worn out by the British Empire and turning tail and becoming pirates in beautiful Tortuga Bay. Oh wait – that was Errol Flynn in this movie!

I gave the film credit though for going easy on the very senior Mr. Flynn since it was all wrapped up in slightly under an hour and half. This allowed him to only gasp, sweat, and wheeze his way through three or four sword fights, a number that his insurance company probably demanded as an absolute ceiling.

Early on, the film desperately tries to establish that Errol is still a guy with a lot of gas in his tank by showing us that he’s a womanizer and a gambler and quick to saddle up to fight in some ill-fated Scottish rebellion. I don’t think you have to be a history major to realize that you’re probably going to want to sit this rebellion out when it all starts with guys in dresses running around shrieking that “Bonnie Prince Charlie is back! Bonnie Prince Charlie is back!”

Flynn plays Jamie Durrisdeer, the first born son of a Scottish lord and a guy who went off to fight in the rebellion. Once Jamie comes back, he and his brother Henry make arrangements to get smuggled out of the country since all the guys who fought the Brits are going to be executed once captured.

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One of Jamie’s ex-girlfriends hears of the plan and double crosses them getting Jamie shot in the process. Jamie immediately blames his brother and even though he’s just been shot, challenges him to a sword fight. Somehow or other Jamie ends up with a knife in him and you can bet that’s he’s going to blame Henry for that, too. Especially since Henry stabbed him and all!

Jamie makes his escape and Henry decides to just let everyone think that the British killed Jamie in that drive-by that went down ten minutes before the brother vs. brother knife fight. Did I mention that Jamie also has a wife that he asked Henry to “look after”? I guess she comes with the castle or something.

Jamie and his Irish buddy Francis sail on a smuggler’s boat to Tortuga Bay where all the really cool pirates are hanging out in 1746. Flynn is able to display flashes of what made him so great in his earlier pirate adventures – a combination of humor and dangerousness that we expect in our buccaneers.

When a pirate ship captained by a French guy rams the smuggler’s boat, Errol takes the opportunity not to fight the pirates but to fight the smuggler captain instead! We are told by the narrator that the captain of the pirate ship is a “French dandy” and by golly if that ain’t the truth!

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The movie may not be much more than a forgettable pirate adventure elevated by the fading presence of Flynn, but you get some real laughs when during the big battle between the smugglers and the pirates, the French Dandy is watching Flynn fence with the smuggler and is shouting tips to Flynn about the proper fighting style.

Jamie and Francis eventually head back to Scotland. I was never entirely sure just what sort of plan Jamie had in mind since he was still wanted by the British.

Then as I watched him make his entrance at a party his brother was having to celebrate his engagement to Jamie’s wife while the British military guys are there as guests I realized that maybe this was going to be one of those “I’ll beat my brother’s ass for trying to kill me, stealing my woman, and turning traitor and go from there” kind of plans that makes all kinds of sense right before you do it, but whose failings become apparent to you once you’re in lockdown facing execution in the morning.

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But that just goes to show you what a dummy I am in these things because by the time it’s all said and done, Jamie and his brother make up, Jamie and Francis escape through a tunnel in a fireplace, Jamie’s narc ex-girlfriend redeems herself, and Jamie and his wife end up together again!

The movie has a very rushed feel and resorts to the narrator to move things along with a minimum of action, especially in the early going. The brevity of the movie also means that Flynn’s pirate career here lasted about twenty minutes and involved one stolen galleon.

Flynn is certainly one of the great cinema action heroes (see The Adventures Of Robin Hood, Captain Blood, and The Sea Hawk for instance) and it’s sad to watch him going through the motions when he’s so clearly past his prime, but he still has a few moments that keep this one from being a total waste of time.

© 2015 MonsterHunter

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