Sony // 1962 // 87 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // February 25th, 2014
Ransacking a lost tropic island...for a fabulous idol of gold!
While living in a 17th century Huguenot settlement, Jonathan Standish (Kerwin Mathews, The Devil at 4 O'Clock) is unjustly captured for a ridiculous crime and sentenced to fifteen years in a penal colony (by his father, no less, who is one of the judges in the court). Jonathan is able to break out of the prison, but he's quickly captured by band of murdering pirates led by the mysterious Captain LaRoche (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers). LaRache wants to infiltrate the Huguenot settlement and promises Jonathan that his reasons are noble; Jonathan soon realizes this isn't the case, and now finds himself battling not only the trust of his friends and family, but also the violent pirates who are hell bent on stealing a treasure the settlement may or may not possess behind their wooden walls.
Produced by the Hammer film studio (who mainly toiled in gothic monster movies), The Pirates of Blood River tells the story of a man unjustly accused by his own father who escapes his captors only to be captured once again by pirates. Then the pirates get into a big battle with the captive man's settlement, and everything ends as it should. Interestingly, this may be the only pirate movie I've ever seen that has almost no standard pirate movies clichés. Except for a muddy river that belongs in the Congo, there are no large pirate ships, planks to walk, or exploding cannonballs. The pirate played by Christopher Lee has an eye patch, but he talks in an accent that makes him sound like a suave businessman, not a rouge and bloodthirsty pirate. In other words, if you're going in expecting something along the lines of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, you're going to be sorely disappointed.
There's probably a very good reason why The Pirates of Blood River is being released on an archival DVD format; its not a very good movie. Oh, it's most certainly easy to sit through -- it's by no means terrible. Yet the film doesn't really offer up much to separate it from the hundreds of other B-level pirate flicks Hollywood has churned out over the last seven decades. Except for Christopher Lee (who looks unbelievable youthful in this film), the cast is almost uniformly forgettable. Kerwin Mathews -- no stranger to swashbuckling movies like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad -- is a hero who can't seem to rise above the bland material. The rest of the cast is made up of either ragtag pirates (including Oliver Reed, though frankly I couldn't tell you which pirate he was) or frightened townspeople who spend an inordinate amount of time getting their muskets loaded and look like they just walked out of a community college production of The Scarlet Letter.
The Pirates of Blood River is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This transfer for this film is slightly above average for its age and budget. The colors give a little pop, but there are some noticeable defects in the print. The soundtrack is presented in what sounds like Dolby Digital Mono (no mention is made on the package). Much like the video transfer, the audio mix is sufficient if uninspired. No alternate subtitles or soundtracks are available on this disc.
The only bonus feature is a commentary track with writer Jimmy Sangster, art director Don Mingaye, and Marcus Hearn.
The Pirates of Blood River is rather thin on story with a mediocre screenplay by Jimmy Stangster (who also wrote Hammer's The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula). John Gilling (The Plague of the Zombies) directs with nothing but flatness, giving the action a rather wooden quality (often the impact of fists or knives takes place off screen). Everything within The Pirates of Blood River feels like it was created to make a quick buck, and little else. This one is hard to recommend. It's a film without much of a swashbuckling backbone. The action is fairly limp, the performances are bland (save for the always entertaining Christopher Lee), and the film as a whole is...well, wholly forgettable.
This one should walk the plank.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 1962
MPAA Rating: Not Rated