Sea captain Bart Paxton has a thankless task from the King of England.
Henry Morgan, erstwhile ally of the crown, has set up a kingdom on
Tortuga, whose buccaneers are robbing English ships at will and
strangling the island of Jamaica. The Royal Navy can't attack Tortuga
without igniting a new war with Spain, so the King is sending Paxton as
a secret privateer to put an end to Morgan's depredations. And Meg, the
young hellion who has stowed away on Paxton's ship, isn't making his
job any easier.
Unlike its predecessor The Black Swan or its contemporary Morgan the Pirate, Pirates of Tortuga casts Henry Morgan as a villain, the correct and natural role for that treacherous, rapacious, and brilliant man. The one difficulty is that the historical Captain Morgan died rich, contented, and even respectable, a most unsatisfying end for a movie villain. The movie deals with this problem straightforwardly, by constructing a sort of alternate history that shows what might have happened if Morgan had not chosen to answer King Charles's summons to England after his raid on Panama in 1671, with its very real attendant risk of imprisonment and execution, but instead had followed the course many of his fellow buccaneers did by raiding and looting indiscriminately. It would have been well within Morgan's power to set up the "buccaneer kingdom" on Tortuga that the movie shows.
The plot is bare-bones, but serviceable: Paxton finds Morgan, Paxton poses as partner of Morgan to spy out Morgan's fortress, Meg flirts with the governor of Jamaica, but ultimately decides her heart truly lies with Paxton, Paxton defeats Morgan. But the denouement is a major disappointment: unimaginative, perfunctory, and implausible at once, and moreover, it fails to tie up Morgan's end of the story.
Bart Paxton's part is well-written, a potentially dashing commander with real brains and imagination, but Ken Scott is unable to bring anything to the role but heroic blandness. Letitia Roman is certainly fetching as Meg, especially in her sailor's togs, and her bare-legged wriggling in Paxton's bed is a clear sign of the sexual revolution's tsunami roaring toward the beach of the Hayes Code. But looking beyond her physical charms, Meg's personality really has nothing to recommend her: she's not smart, brave, loyal, honest, or even charming.
Robert Stephens' Henry Morgan is interesting, but ultimately ineffective. Stephens plays Morgan as a full-blown alcoholic, complete with the shakes. His Morgan is greedy (his eyes almost bug out when Paxton presents him with a chest full of guineas) and cruel, but credulous and unintelligent. He is fun to hate, as a good villain should be, but he lacks the frisson of menace that emanated from Rathbone's Levasseur or Newton's and Heston's Long John Silver.
The supporting cast comes to the rescue, particularly Dave King as PeeWee and Stanley Adams as Montbars. King is appealing, dashing, and sometimes very funny, while Adams' Montbars is pure, unbridled appetite, fat and greedy and bullying, a perfect pirate.
Visually, the movie is outstanding. The shots of the sailing ships are sublime, the colors are sumptuous, and the islands and cliffs are magnificent. The movie is fun to watch, and while it won't stay with you long, it avoids the gratuitous absurdity of many pirate movies.
Rating: ** ½ out of ****.
Recommendation: Worth a rental after it leaves the new release shelves.
Pirates of Tortuga
Pirates of Tortuga
An English captain and his crew are dispatched to the Spanish-controlled island of Tortuga, where famed privateer Henry Morgan has defected from his support of the English Empire and is running a strictly piratical venture, stopping any and all vessels including English.
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November 15, 2017 at 07:24 AM