Sunday, January 6, 2013

Errol Flynn, Captain Blood, and the Pirate Code by Teresa Knudsen April 10, 2009 Republished January 06, 2013

Errol Flynn, Captain Blood, and the Pirate Code

Captain Blood, Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland -
Hollywood Pirates Sail under Rules, Guidelines, and Articles
Apr 10, 2009 by Teresa Knudsen

The Pirates of the Caribbean films show that lawless pirates felt a need for laws. One such film from Hollywood's Golden years is Captain Blood with Errol Flynn.

Thanks to the Pirates of the Caribbean films, people across the globe know that even lawless pirates developed laws, rules, and guidelines. Hollywood has a tradition of pirate films. One of the most famous is Captain Blood, adapted from Rafael Sabatini's novel.
Doctor Peter Blood, Gardener, Pacifist and the Christian Code

The film begins with a 1686 revolt against the tyrranical Britsh King James II. Dr. Blood, a mercenary in the past, had sickened of war, and retired to the English countryside to practice medicine and raise geraniums. He refuses to participate in the rebellion against the king, but believes it is his duty to help the wounded.

When the king's men arrive to arrest the rebels, Dr. Blood explains he took an oath to help all mankind, no matter who they are.

Dr. Blood appeals to the Christian code. "This is a Christian county. Christian men don't make war on the wounded or those who shelter them."

But the Christian code as Dr. Blood interprets it is not operating. Unimpressed with the philosophy of helping all people, the king's men arrest Dr. Blood.

Peter Blood and the Code of Sacred Duty and the Law

Blood is tried with the others in an unfair court system. When the harsh chief justice asks why he was offering aid to a rebel, Blood answers that he took the physician's oath to help all mankind, saying "My business was with his wounds, not his politics." Blood insists that as a doctor, he must follow his sacred duty.

The judge counters that Dr. Blood's duty is to obey the king first. The judge cites God's will for King James's absolute power to arrest, detain, torture, and kill. The judge places the king above British common law, including habeas corpus, the rules of evidence, and other rights of the Magna Carta.

Though Peter Blood and the others are sentenced to death, King James decides that selling the "rebels" into slavery instead of just killing them is good economics.

Dr. Blood becomes a Pirate Captain, and Author of Articles for the Ship

In Port Royal, Dr. Blood proves insubordinate and is slated for the worst of all the slave work. He is saved by the intervention of Arabella Bishop (Olivia de Havilland), the governor's niece, with whom he forms a romantic attachment held in check by their different social status. Blood then escapes with his friends by commandeering a Spanish ship. With Blood elected captain, he develops articles, a pirate code by which to run the ship.

The articles forbid assaults upon "unwilling" women, and offer plans for wounded crew-members.

A financial plan has any plunder first being used to keep the ship in provisions and seaworthy.

And there is even a plan for compensating pirates hurt in the line of pirating duty.

Captain Blood Breaks the Pirate Code and his Articles

In Tortuga, Captain Blood meets Captain Levasseur (Basil Rathbone). The two agree to join forces, with Blood being the brains of the operation, and Levasseur adding muscle. At Blood's insistance, Levasseur reluctantly agrees to sail under the Articles.

Yet when Blood and his crew meet Levasseur on an island to divide the latest loot, Blood finds Arabella prisoner of Levasseur. In one of the most thrilling pirate swordfights ever filmed, Blood and Levasseur duel on the beach, amongst the surf and rocks, where Blood kills Levasseur.

Later, with Araballa safely on the ship Blood named for her, he tries to give her jewels and gowns that he has stolen from other ships. When she refuses his advances, Blood becomes angry and tells her, "You're mine, to do with as I like."

Immediately disgusted with himself for breaking his own articles and rules, he then decides to return Arabella to Port Royal, where he and his crew face certain hanging. His reluctant crew stage a small mutiny before agreeing to return to Port Royal, where they save the town from enemy gun boats.

The Code is Restored

In the end, order is restored. The British people rid themselves of King James II the tyrant. Captain Blood and his crew are rewarded for loyalty. With Peter Blood declared the new Governor of Port Royal, and husband of Arabella, the codes are back in force, with peace, prosperity, freedom.

Captain Blood. Directed by Michael Curtiz. Screenplay by Casey Robinson. Cast: Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone. 1935

Copyright Teresa Knudsen. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.
Teresa's writing appears in the British Library, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.
Online she has written for USA Today and E How.



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