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Friday Film Review: Nate and Hayes

Nate and Hayes (aka Savage Islands) (1983)
Genre: Adventure/Swashbuckler
Grade: B-

Did I understand correctly that we like our swashbucklers here? I think I did and here’s another entry into the genre. I first saw it when it was broadcast on the Cinemax cable TV channel, oh quite a while ago, but honestly have no memory of it during its theatrical release in 1983. And while it’s certainly got some flaws, it’s worth seeking out for a few reasons.

Captain Bully Hayes (Tommy Lee Jones) is a sea captain in the South Pacific – with an endless supply of brightly colored sashes – who is currently transporting a young couple from Boston to the South Seas islands for their wedding before they begin a life of missionary work. Sophie (Jenny Seagrove) and Nathaniel (Michael O’Keefe) have differing opinions on Hayes – she likes him whereas he thinks Hayes is a rogue but neither expect to see him after they reach the island where Nate’s Uncle and Aunt minister to the natives.

Hayes has obviously fallen for Sophie but initially leaves the island only to suddenly change his mind and turn about. Good thing since a nasty type named Ben Pease (Max Phipps) and his crew have attacked the island, taken most of the natives for slaves and killed most everyone else. Everyone except Sophie who Pease plans on selling and Nate who Pease thought was dead.

Now with the help of Bully and his crew, Nate must find and rescue Sophie before Pease and his new partner Count von Rittenberg (Grant Tilly), who is looking for expansion room for Germany in the area, can offer her up as a human sacrifice in a deal for anchorage on an island ruled by a cutthroat native King.

Initially I did hesitate to review this movie here because it does have flaws but it’s also a swashbuckler with a grand sweep and several characteristics that make it stand out. It’s set in the South Pacific rather than the usual Caribbean location and what gorgeous scenery it does have. The movie was filmed entirely in New Zealand and Fiji and is a visual treat.

It also includes a steamship and deals a bit with the expansionist political policies of the great nations of the age. Hayes and his crew are unabashedly earthy anti-heroes who enjoy a visit to a Somoan brothel at one point. I also like that Sophie is proactive in her attempts to escape instead of just waiting like a helpless damsel. And I want her wedding dress!

Most swashbucklers featuring pirates usually end with the pirate reformed or the conditions that lead him to piracy resolved thus allowing for his return to a life of law and order. But here, not only is Hayes still up to his old tricks, as shown by the initial scene of him gun running to the natives, but he also appears to have gone a long way in corrupting Sophie and Nate, as we see by the final scenes. It’s a fun change of pace from the usual.

But I did mention flaws and here are some of them. This film has never heard of the term PC. The villains are villainous and don’t look for them to be anything else be they white or native. Only Nate ever attempts to save the enslaved peaceful islanders from being sold and this is limited to an effectual try. The initial gun running scene ends with most of Hayes’s crew being captured and, again, no attempt that is shown is made to rescue them.

There is also a mix of comedy to go along with the swashbuckly parts which sometimes works and sometimes falls flat. The level of violence is high for a PG rated film and includes stabbing, shooting, impaling, strangling and crushing. Finally, although there are sword fights, somehow they just don’t seem to have the same elan when carried out on a steamship.

Tommy Lee Jones is great as Hayes – always ready with a quip and a quick fist when needed. O’Keefe finally loosens up and has some fun with his part while Jenny Seagrove is given a much stronger role than the usual female love interest got in the golden days of Hollywood pirate movies. The music is grand and sweeping even if it’s used a tad too much and the locations could be part of a tourist campaign.

So if you’re looking for a different swashbuckler check this one out either at Netflix, through used DVDs (if it’s being sold for less than $20, it’s a deal) or VHS tapes or through my friend youtube (entire movie up in 7 parts). It’s far from perfect yet it’s one of those films which I like in spite of much of itself. B-


Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.


  1. Karenmc
    Oct 01, 2010 @ 10:02:55

    I remember this one – I saw it because Tommy Lee Jones was in it. Not a great movie, but not awful, and I remember that wedding dress (IMDB has a couple of photos of it). Michael O’Keefe was the sore thumb for me – he wasn’t quite right for the role or the movie.

  2. Jayne
    Oct 01, 2010 @ 10:07:29

    @Karenmc: He was okay once he got some liquor in him. That was a funny scene of Bully and Nate getting drunk and debating who should get Sophie – once they got her back. Then Nate had the epiphany moment when it dawned on him that she might not want either one of them.

  3. Heather
    Oct 01, 2010 @ 10:08:14

    I saw this on laser video disc! Ah, technology that never quite made it.

    I was probably 12 or 13 and loved it. And I’ve never met anyone else who had ever heard of it. Nice to see I wasn’t just imagining it. :)

  4. Jayne
    Oct 01, 2010 @ 10:10:08

    @Heather: LOL, you can still buy that technology on ebay!

  5. Lizzy
    Oct 01, 2010 @ 10:30:29

    Omigosh, this is the movie that made me fall in love with Tommy Lee Jones. And pirates. And sexy missionaries. And cannibals. Or, at least, the Hollywood stereotype of cannibals. And … I could go on and on.

    Basically, it’s the movie that introduced me to the lovable seafaring rogue and all his trappings. I watched it incessantly as a child. I haven’t seen it in years, though, and I fear that (like “LadyHawke” and “The Last Unicorn”) it probably wouldn’t stand the test of time.

  6. Karenmc
    Oct 01, 2010 @ 12:01:43

    It’s been YEARS since I saw it, so I’d forgotten about the liquor. I’ll have to Netflix it.

  7. Jayne
    Oct 01, 2010 @ 18:34:14

    @Lizzy: I was a bit afraid to watch it again too since I hadn’t seen it in years either. But it held up well for me. I noticed a few flaws that hadn’t struck me at the time but overall, I’m glad I gave it a shot.

  8. Jayne
    Oct 01, 2010 @ 18:36:14

    @Karenmc: I also like that Nate acknowledges that his actions in Samoa basically screwed things up and that he learns from this.

  9. Devon
    Oct 01, 2010 @ 19:46:58

    I did a blog post on the similarities between this movie and Pirates of the Caribbean. Honestly, Nate and Hayes could have been the blueprint for PotC. Even the cover posters are eerily similar.

  10. Jayne
    Oct 01, 2010 @ 19:55:19

    @Devon: I’ve heard the similarities talked about. But, and this will probably get me drummed out of the Swashbuckling Society, I’ve only ever seen PoTC once, years ago, and was not that impressed so I don’t really remember enough of it to be sure.

  11. Tamara
    Oct 01, 2010 @ 22:56:40

    This movie was the start of an minor crush on Tommy Lee Jones. I wish I could remember where I saw it, I know it wasn’t in a movie theater though. Two things I distinctly remember – bat guano and “Big Man God! Momma Jesus Christ!”

  12. De
    Oct 02, 2010 @ 00:02:02

    I adore this movie. I picked up a new copy on dvd a few years back and I’m so glad.

    Things I love:
    -the ‘peg leg’ on the one guy on Bully’s crew
    -the silent bodyguard
    -Sophie being kickass and fighting her own fight. If she gets help fine, but she’s not going down easy.
    -the sense of fun and adventure
    -the ending
    -young Tommy Lee Jones in tight white pants

    Also, I get the same sense/emotional reaction to this and PotC. They’ve both got a woman who fights her own battles, a good guy teaming up with a bad guy, and sailing ships. That’s not actually that much in common, and yet something in there clearly works for me.

  13. Jody Whitaker
    Oct 02, 2010 @ 05:28:43

    Little known fact. I named my first born after Nate – Nathaniel. And now he actually goes by Nate.

  14. Jayne
    Oct 02, 2010 @ 07:05:43

    @Tamara: “Big Man God! Momma Jesus Christ!”

    Woot! I loved his character. “Much boat!”

  15. Jayne
    Oct 02, 2010 @ 07:06:22

    @Jody Whitaker: LOL, probably a good thing you didn’t name him “Bully.”

  16. Jayne
    Oct 02, 2010 @ 07:10:23

    @De: I loved the peg leg too but couldn’t help but think how uncomfortable it must have been to walk on.
    I was also sorry that it seems like Bully’s entire crew is either killed (including Fong)or captured.
    Any movie with a heroine who tries to fight her own battles gets points from me.
    The adventure and fun are what made me pull it out after all these years and watch it again.
    The ending is fun – especially with Bully yelling at Nate to “get in the boat. I’m being shot at!”
    Hmmm, those tight white pants…

  17. Maili
    Oct 02, 2010 @ 08:41:33

    @Devon: Pirate films in general are striking similar, have been since 1930s (most of those 1930s films were inspired by pirate novels, comics and children’s books). A poor lad, in love with a posh lady, gets tangled up with sea piracy is a cliché. So is a love triangle between a lady, her betrothed and a pirate (whom almost always gets the girl).

    I have to admit PotC did one thing that other films didn’t quite do: merging the sea pirate sub-genre and the sea supernatural sub-genre. There is a couple of pirate films that have a touch of the supernatural (a ghost ship or a ghost who tries to warn of a danger ahead), but not to this extent. Almost everyone acknowledges this marriage was inspired by the innovative “Monkey Island” pirate video games (LeChuck the zombie-ghost pirate and his ghostly ship).

    “Nate and Hayes”, in this case, is no exception to having cliches and homages. I mean, both films are part of an ongoing homage to earlier films and novels. Even posters are similar – the skull almost always appeared on sea-based pirate or horror posters of 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s films. Examples: Ghost Ship (which is part of a long history of sea supernatural films and stories, which includes John Carpenter’s The Fog) and The Goonies.

    What makes PotC stand out is, it’s the first sea-based/pirate film in decades that actually saw box office profits (as far as I know, it’s managed to generate $1billion gross worldwide). Sea-based films traditionally don’t fare well at box office. “Nate & Hayes” was a box office flop, which was no surprise to everyone. They tried to revive the genre with “Cutthroat Island” and two other pirate films around the same time during the 1990s. All three were major box office disasters, which put everyone off from trying a pirate film again for a long time (sticking with military or horror sea films only).

    Films of this sub-genre are difficult to make, *very* expensive to produce, and rarely did well. We should thank “Master and Commander” because if it wasn’t for this, PotC wouldn’t have been made or have this size of the budget. :D But I digress.

    Basically, what I’m saying is N&H isn’t anything new. It’s fun, charming and cute, but nothing new as it’s a recycled work of earlier films and novels. Same with PotC (apart from its marriage).

    Yay! A colleague, who did a paper on the cinema of pirate films, chewed my ear about it for years and I never found an opportunity to share the pain until now. =D

  18. Jayne
    Oct 02, 2010 @ 08:52:03

    @Maili: There. See? All your pain was worth it. Your colleague knew you’d need to know this one day.

  19. De
    Oct 02, 2010 @ 17:45:19

    Hmmm, those tight white pants…
    Actually, Bully Hayes was Captain Tightpants before there was Captain Tightpants.

    Also, while the triangle isn’t there, Mal = Bully, Inara = Sophie, and Simon = Nate, with a little Ratbag through in. And wondering how far I can take this, Jayne = Fong and Zoe = Captain Blake?

  20. Deb Kinnard
    Oct 04, 2010 @ 19:39:44

    Aw! I loved this film (and I don’t love ’em all, no matter how the swash buckles).

    Favorite line is when one of Bully’s crew purposely knocks Nate (?) overboard with the rigging and straightfaced says, “Slipped. God’s truth.”

    We use that line at home all the time.

    Good fun! Thanks for bringing this one up.

  21. Jayne
    Oct 05, 2010 @ 07:10:52

    @Deb Kinnard: Oh yes! Love that line from Ratbag. And his dismay to see Nate apparently standing on water – “I’ve robbed the bleedin’ Messiah!”

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