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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Buccaneer ( 1958 )

"There comes a time when a man wants to change...belong to something, or maybe someone."

The pirate and privateer Jean Lafitte had warehouses of stolen loot, a beautiful house on the private island in Barataria Bay, and freedom to do as he pleased, but he lacked respect from the one woman he loved, Annette Claiborne. This woman instills in him a love for the still infant American nation strong enough to make him surrender his pirating ways and seek to become a citizen. But first, he must prove to Governor Claiborne, Annette's father, that he is not in league with the British who are about to send thousands of troops into Louisana to squash General Andrew Jackson's defense of the territory. 

In 1956, director Cecil B. DeMille had found great success with the remake of his silent film The Ten Commandments, and so he undertook another remake of a favorite film of his, The Buccaneer, first made in 1938 with Fredric March in the lead. During the making of The Ten Commandments, DeMille had suffered a heart attack but he had sufficiently recovered to believe that he was capable of undertaking another epic production. He was wrong. Shortly after the initial planning of The Buccaneer, DeMille realized that his health would not permit him to make the film and so he passed the directorial wand to his son-in-law, Anthony Quinn. 
Quinn had never directed a feature film but was willing to give it a try with his father-in-law helping to guide the production. This was the primary reason DeMille had selected Quinn - in order to have full control of the final production. Both came to regret this decision. DeMille was displeased with the film that Quinn had helmed and made editing changes to it before its release that Quinn did not like. 

Just why Cecil B. DeMille and Anthony Quinn were dissatisfied with the final result is difficult to fathom. While it is true that The Buccaneer lacks the compelling drama of The Ten Commandments, the film is colorful, entertaining, and does pack quite a bit of adventure into its 119-minute runtime. The battle scene at the end of the film is particularly thrilling with the bagpiping British troops appearing from the fog ( a scene that Disney's Bedknobs and Broomsticks would later echo ). 

Unfortunately, the script to The Buccaneer, based upon the 1938 film, has mere threads of real history in its plot. Instead, the screenwriters ( which included Jesse Lasky Jr. ) fashioned a script that captures merely the flavor of the era and its setting. You can't ask for everything.

Yul Brynner, sporting a rare mop of hair, gives a convincing portrayal of the good-hearted privateer longing for a place to anchor. Lafitte is a likable and sympathetic character, as is his companion General Dominique You, played by Charles Boyer. "Of all the men in the world, I never wanted to fail you," Lafitte tells the General in a poignant scene when Lafitte realizes that his friendship with the General may be the price he has to pay for American citizenship. 

Charlton Heston, who is always a pleasure to watch, gives a powerful performance as General Andrew Jackson, reprising a role that he had played in The President's Lady ( 1953 ). Taking care of "Old Ironface" Jackson, making sure that he drinks his hot milk every night, is Mr. Peavy, played by the great character actor Henry Hull. 

The ladies are equally engaging. Inger Stevens, that icy blonde from Sweden, stars as the beautiful Annette Claiborne. She is in love with the pirate and is willing to surrender her status as a Southern society belle to sail off with him into the open sea. The marvelous Claire Bloom plays Bonnie Brown, a feisty tomboy who wants Lafitte as well. But her love is so deep she would rather see him wed to Ms. Claiborne than be with her. 

"You're a fool! She's everything you ever loved and fought her. You gave up everything you had, everything you are. Jean, even I don't want to see you lose her now."
Also in the cast was E.G. Marshall, Lorne Greene, Ted de Corsia, Douglass Dumbrille, and Fran Jeffries. 

At the box-office, The Buccaneer did poorly, bringing in only $3 million dollars in revenue, not even recuperating its $5 million dollar budget. When discussing the films of Cecil B. DeMille, The Buccaneer is rarely mentioned, even though his handiwork is clearly evident in many of the scenes. DeMille is also credited at the beginning of the film before the titles appear. But perhaps modern critics consider the production too run-of-DeMille to be even mentioned among his works. 


  1. I'm with you. DeMille and Quinn really had nothing to gripe about. This movie is very entertaining. When Heston strode into the room as Jackson, my daughter cheered. Such fun.

    1. My sister and I watched this film for the first time when we were being homeschooled ( we were learning about the War of 1812 ). Ever since then, whenever Andrew Jackson's name is mentioned, I picture Charlton Heston with his gruff cowboy way of portraying Old Ironface. He's such a great actor.

  2. How have I never heard of this film before?? I am now going to hunt it down.

    1. The Buccaneer wasn't a big hit at the time and so film critics today don't often mention the picture, but it has always been available on VHS...and more lately, on DVD. I hope you like it when you get a chance to see it!

  3. I think I'm in the minority here. I love pirate movies, I love the cast and this should have been great but for me fell totally flat. I can't believe I'm saying that. Maybe I should give it another try.

    Yul Brynner with hair. No, no, no. Inger Stevens. How can someone so beautiful be so boring? The best things about the film are Charlton Heston and Claire Bloom.
    Anthony Quinn is a fabulous actor, maybe not so much a great director.

    1. You're not in the minority, Margot. You are in agreement with DeMille, Quinn, and most of the critics who watched it! It does lack punch and some of the scenes are more "talk" than action, but overall I found it enjoyable. Brynner must not have liked the hair idea either, because he kept his bald look for every film after this. ;-)

  4. This movie used to play on local station regularly, but I haven't seen it in years. I remember liking well enough, though Yul seemed miscast as a French pirate. I've always liked Inger Stevens, who rarely got a role worthy of her talents (one of her best was in MAN ON FIRE with Bing Crosby). I think I need to see THE BUCCANEER again!

  5. This has been on my TBR list for a long time! Good to hear from someone who likes it :-)