Your RDA of Irony

Captain Brood

One of my greatest regrets is that I am not frequently mistaken for Errol Flynn. People seem to deliberately ignore my dash, charm and God-like looks. Yesterday, however, Turner Classic Movies paid a vicarious tribute to me by having an Errol Flynn festival. While I watch “The Adventures of Robin Hood” about as often as it is on, I had not seen “Captain Blood” in probably forty years; so I decided to see it again.

In just the first three minutes of the film, the audience is subjected to an immersion in English history. “Duke of Monmouth”, “James II”, Papists, etc. are casually mentioned;you could be eavedropping on a history colloquium or me talking to myself. I had to wonder: confronted with this rapid discourse on Stuart politics, was the audience of 1936 more erudite than today’s? I doubt it.

My grandparents would not have known that the Duke of Monmouth was the illegitimate child of Charles II . (Yes, so was one- third of England’s population; the other two-thirds being the impregnated wenches and their cuckolded husbands.) As Charles’ oldest spawn, the Duke thought that he–a good Protestant–should inherit the throne rather than his legitimate but annoying Catholic Uncle James. Monmouth attempted to seize the throne and ended up yet another statistic in the Tower of London. This was the historical prologue for “Captain Blood”, the story of a doctor who becomes a pirate–although the two professions are often synonymous.

No, my grandfathers, Patrick and Swen, (all right, Nate and Simon) would not have known the intricacies of the Stuart intrigues. However, I think that people then had a greater appreciation and respect for history. Today’s audience has an adolescent attention span and would respond to history with a yawn of self-satisfied ignorance. Furthermore, Hollywood today would want to be politically-correct. It would never suggest that the relationship between Catholics and Protestants was ever less than cordial, let alone take a side in the conflict–even if history did.

No, if “Captain Blood” were made today, the prologue would explain that the English throne had been seized by a gang of Scottish terrorists (non-denominational, of course). The special effects would certainly be better than the 1936 version. What more could we want. The eyes are entertained even as the brain atrophies.

  1. Hal Gordon says:

    Eugene — Would audiences of 1936 have understood the politics of the period better than audiences today? Probably not. But then, you might be surprised. Protestants were still in the ascendant in 1936, and school children still got the ‘Whig” version of English history. Which is why William of Orange was portrayed as a liberator in the film.

  2. Hal Gordon says:

    Another point to consider: The Flynn film was based on Rafael Sabatini’s 1922 novel, “Captain Blood.” The novel was a best-seller and did discuss the politics of “King Monmouth’s” rebellion. another reason why the 1936 film audience might have been better informed.

  3. You make two excellent points, Hal. Sabatini was a very popular of the time: “Scaramouche”, “The Sea Hawk” and “Captain Blood.”

    But weren’t the Whigs “the good guys”? As a pug owner, I am a firm partisan of William of Orange.

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