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Friday Film Review: The Spanish Main

The Spanish MainThe Spanish Main (1945)
Genre: Pirate romance
Grade: B-

After my review of “Captain Blood,” I began looking back into my pirate movie collection for another one to write about. Here’s a lesser known swashbuckler from the golden days of pirate movies complete with a Dutch pirate hero and a woman pirate!

Dutch Captain Laurent Van Horn (Paul Henreid of Casablanca fame) is a peaceful man on his way, along with other Dutch settlers, to the Carolinas when a hurricane (and that must have been some hurricane!) blows their ship off course to Cartagena. Here they are imprisoned by the evil Viceroy, Don Juan Alvarado (Walter Slezak). Vowing vengeance, Laurent escapes along with some fellow prisoners.

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Five years later, we learn that Laurent is now known as the uberpirate Barracuda who takes Spanish ships and steals from the Viceroy at every opportunity. In disguise, he and some trusted men are sailing on the ship which is carrying the Contessa Francesca (Maureen O’Hara, looking very Irish for a Spanish lady), the daughter of the Mexican Viceroy, to her wedding with Don Alvarado. Naturally she and Laurent meet = sparks and attraction! The Barracuda’s ship engages the Spanish one and of course we know who will win. In order to avoid more bloodshed, Francesca agrees to marry Laurent, who is strangely eager to tie himself in marriage to this spitfire. Oh well, every man has his weakness.

Arriving in Tortuga, the headquarters of the Brethren of the Coast, Laurent announces his plans to ransom the other Spanish prisoners but his marriage, and the fact that it will bring Don Alvarado and the might of Spain against the pirates, divides his fellow buccaneers. One of these pirates is Anne Bonney (Binne Barnes). Whoo-hoo, women pirates! She and Francesca even fight over Laurent. Whoo-hoo, cat fight! Of sorts.

Laurent’s fellow pirates decide that the best thing for all concerned is to return Francesca to Don Alvarado. In the process, they turn the two, who had begun to trust each other, against each other. So, Laurent is held captive until they make off with his ship and his wife. They didn’t count on the evil Viceroy ignoring any piddling matter of honor (honor for pirates?!) and taking Laurent’s crew captive. But Laurent isn’t a man to give up what is his so he sails after them, determined to get Francesca back. Will he be able to save the day against the might of Spain?

There are plot holes all over the place with this one so my advice is just to ignore what doesn’t make sense and check out the glorious Technicolor. Maureen O’Hara never looked lovelier and is given plenty of scenes to wear dazzling green dresses which set off her hair. There’s also a beautiful sunset, with the Barracuda’s ship sailing into it, which ends the movie – even though a moment before it was full night. Remember I said plot holes?

The fight sequences, both at sea and on land, are fairly well done complete with a soaring score filled with violins. The Spanish are evil incarnate, though Don Alvarado actually ends up almost endearing himself to me with his flexible notions of honor and ruthless selfishness. Here’s a guy who truly looks out for numero uno.

Paul Henreid acquits himself well though it’s obvious that he’s not in the same fencing class as Basil Rathbone and Errol Flynn. Still, he looks like he’s having fun and is given some good ‘leading man’ lines to riposte against his enemies. Maureen O’Hara starts out as a feisty maiden, even managing to spring the pirates from the dungeons and save Paul while he’s fencing for his life. I just wish that towards the end of the film she hadn’t been required to collapse and hang onto Paul a lot.

“The Spanish Main” is obviously RKO’s attempt to cash in on the popularity of pirate films. While it’s not up to “Captain Blood” standards, it’s a solid, workmanlike entry to the genre and not to be missed by swashbuckling fans. Handsome Austrian Henreid and beautiful Irishwoman O’Hara look great together. Since Henreid’s character stars out as a wronged, innocent man, we feel free to cheer him on. Plus there are the obligatory pirate sidekicks to add a dose of comedy when needed. A female pirate (yeh!) and villainous villains complete the picture. While it’s not the best, it’s still of the kind “they just don’t make anymore.”

~Jayne

Note: I can’t find any official DVDs of this movie but it is being shown on TCM in a few days according to their schedule.

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.

11 Comments

  1. Mireya
    Aug 06, 2010 @ 05:51:17

    LOL As being half Spaniard allow me to tell you that not a single member in my maternal side looks like your stereotypical Spaniard. People have this image of olive skin and dark hair and eyes, and they are not entirely wrong as that is a “Mediterranean” look shared by a lot of people in the area, but truth is that the farther up you go in the country, the least do people look like that. I am also half Puerto Rican. When I go down home with my husband, they speak Spanish to him (he’s 2nd generation American of Polish-German ascent) and English to me. You should also see how people look at me when I open my mouth and they can’t figure out where the hell my accent is from because I look German or Northern European (in their heads) and not Latin ;)

  2. Jayne
    Aug 06, 2010 @ 06:16:49

    Wow, so there are some flaming red haired Spaniards? Way cool.

  3. Moth
    Aug 06, 2010 @ 07:20:38

    Bummer. I love pirate movies. But this isn’t on Netflix. :(

  4. Darlene Marshall
    Aug 06, 2010 @ 07:31:57

    I had trouble with “Paul Henreid, Action Hero!” the first time I saw this, but there’s no doubt Maureen O’Hara was the Queen of Technicolor.*

    I wish some bright person in Hollywood would have cast Basil Rathbone as the romantic action hero. Possibly the best fencer in Hollywood in his generation, he made other actors holding a sword look good in action scenes. I always wanted to see more of him in swashbuckling pics.

    *Which was part of the awesomeness of “The Quiet Man”, one of my favorite romantic movies, done stunningly in black and white and not Technicolor.

  5. Jayne
    Aug 06, 2010 @ 07:45:18

    @Moth: Do you have access to Turner Classic Movies? It’s due to be shown on August 17th.

  6. Jayne
    Aug 06, 2010 @ 07:47:05

    @Darlene Marshall: I had trouble with Henreid during my first viewing too but he’s grown on me in this role. Still not equal to Flynn or Tyrone Power but he’s okay.

  7. dick
    Aug 06, 2010 @ 10:00:40

    When I was a youngster, for 10 cents and a willingness to benumb one’s butt, I could sit through serial shorts–such as Red Ryder, Zorro, Captain Marvel–beginning every Saturday at 10 am and sit right on through the swashbucklers which followed. Plot holes, bad fencing, Maureen O’Hara’s imperiousness, were all ignored. Great fun.

  8. Kristi Lea
    Aug 06, 2010 @ 11:08:57

    I absolutely love the old, Technicolor pirate movies. There are a bunch with Maureen OHara, Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn. Think I fell in love on a New Years Eve babysitting gig when I was a young teen–hours of nothing to do after the kids were asleep, and either TCM or AMC was doing a marathon of old pirate moves. I think I’ve seen The Spanish Main, but its been years. Too many years ;)

    And, thanks to you, my husband shall now have yet another reason to roll his eyes at me :) I have just scheduled recordings of half a dozen Errol Flynn movies coming up on TMC this weekend, and had TMC set to “remind me” by email when The Spanish Main is on in a couple of weeks (its too far out for my DVR to record).

    So Move Over, Dora and Dragon Tales, because Mommy has some TV of her own to watch…

  9. MaryK
    Aug 06, 2010 @ 11:35:33

    it is being shown on TCM in a few days according to their schedule.

    Really? Cool, thanks for the heads up! I’ll definitely be recording this.

    Have you posted about this one before? Or maybe it was mentioned in another review. I remember futilely searching for a copy to watch and then seeing part of it on TCM when I was down to the wire on a deadline. I’d have recorded it but it was already a good way in.

    What I saw of it, I enjoyed, and I liked Henreid. I seem to prefer the less flamboyant swashbucklers. :D

  10. Jayne
    Aug 06, 2010 @ 17:08:42

    @MaryK: I think I might have mentioned this film in the comments about “Captain Blood.”

  11. Moth
    Aug 06, 2010 @ 21:30:39

    @Jayne: Nope. Starving college student so no cable for me. :(

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