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Archive for the ‘Skelton Knaggs’ Category

Blackbeard, The Pirate

28 Apr

Blackbeard, The Pirate — directed by Raoul Walsh. Swashbuckler. A beautiful woman conceals a treasure from a bloodthirsty pirate who is concealing it from another bloodthirsty pirate. 99 minutes Color 1952.

★★★★

Robert Newton, he of the twitch, the wink, the tic, the double-jointed gesticulation, commands the screen here and yar-me-hearties his way through this film’s tics, twists, winks, and gesticulations. The plot is a galumphry of costume jewelry, as is the treasure which Linda Darnell carries about her person, which is stupendous. Stupendous eyes, stupendous lips, stupendous décolletage, oh my goodness is she something to behold. Really at the peak of her beauty, the galleon rocks a little every time she appears in one of her unlikely outfits. But Darnell, with plenty to meet the eye, was a very good actress, from the time she started as a teenager from Texas, in Blood And Sand where she and Anthony Quinn and Rita Hayworth are the only credible performers, next to the flaccid work of Tyrone Power, who very well might have made this picture, too, save that no first class swashbuckler would wish to play opposite Newton who slashes every actor to bits with the scimitar of his scene-stealing eccentricities. Keith Andes would be the victim of Newton here, but he stands up fine against him, and one wonders why Andes did not have a bigger career. Actually Newton seems to be acting all by himself most of the time, which means his performance might be bushwhacked by a shrewd character actor, and such an one exists in the form of Skelton Knaggs, a devious lackey, who pickpockets the camera in every scene he appears. Newton’s furbelows extend right down to bows in his beard, but this smart little performer undoes every one of them. Irene Ryan plays Darnell’s loyal disloyal maid; Alan Mobray a worthy, Torin Thatcher Sir Harry Morgan, William Bendix the first mate, and Richard Egan the hero’s chum. Raoul Walsh, who directed Errol Flynn to fame in similar high-seas Spanish Main costume pieces is the perfect director for this material except that Newton’s presence in it makes the vessel list to the starboard, founder, and sink. Walsh directed whatever they threw at him, which meant that, unlike Hawks or Hitchcock or Stevens or Wyler, his art suffered from the relentlessness of the bad material of major studio movies of the 50s on. Walsh could supervise rewrites well, but making something better does not mean making it good. Although romantic foundations always ground his stories, for seven decades Walsh triumphed in action films, some of the most famous ever made. While we don’t think of him as a director of comedies – Jack Pickford said of him, “Your idea of comedy is to burn down a whorehouse” – but comedy is always the chaser in his pieces, and Blackbeard, The Pirate is no exception. Walsh was a master entertainer. If that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll get. I like it myself. I think you might too.

 
 
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