Almost at the end of this 37 year old movie I suddenly realized I’ve seen it. Nothing seemed at all familiar until the sequence with the rigged cannon, a kind of hinge-point of a climactic battle. Considering all the things we’re exposed to, and our frames of mind when exposed it’s probably not at all surprising that a lot of fluff goes by us without much of a register. But look at this epic lead by Tommy Lee Jones and filmed in Fiji and New Zealand! I mean, Pirates of the Caribbean wasn’t even a gleam in some producer’s eye, and we had Jones doing this over-the-top swashbuckling routine in the South Pacific.
It’s one of those films with lots of angles and people making choices no normal person would make given the circumstances, but that’s why we’re not South Pacific pirates fouling up indigenous peoples and trying to to capitalize on get-rich-quick schemes. Which I presume is why these fantasy adventures continue to draw, there’s definitely a quality of American capitalist, selfish-right at the center of pirating. Of course, our Bully Hayes does draw a line, he’s not in this for murder or slave-trading, but some of his associates are, and frankly, he’s not doing much about it except staying out of it.
Insert the very white couple, mid 19th century missionaries (it’s hard to maintain heroism there, but they are at least not slavers) played by Michael O’Keefe (who will forever been Noonan from Caddyshack) and Jenny Seagrove (who I don’t recognize). And the dastardly Captain Pease and some sort of mission of Germanic expansionism and you get a kind of mad-cap, all-in adventure comedy which is wrapped around several sequences of kidnapping, slave-trading, a massive and weird King Kongesque sacrifice of Jenny over what looks like a super-imposed Bunson Burner flame, and some ships artfully made to look like they’re in the movie at the same time. Like any good adventure, big risks are taken, and confidence is overblown. At one point our hero Hayes literally chops up a rope bridge over a gorge that he’s actually precariously standing at the end of. He does not, mind you, run to the safe side and cut it as his enemies pursue, no at all, he instead chops it at the enemy side and rides it slamming into the opposite cliff face and a football field of distance down . . . well not everything can be a smart plan I suppose, and these films are sort of all about the wildness of risks we wouldn’t take.
It’s a fun film, and I can imagine the production was a nightmare. Jones has sort of been an old man for so long now that I forget he ever wasn’t a craggy-faced elder. He seemed to age rapidly in the industry, and personally I didn’t see much of him between 83-93 when he resurfaced in The Fugitive alongside Harrison Ford. In this movie his role is much more playful, and it’s enjoyable to see him smiling and swinging a sword, what actor doesn’t want to do Errol Flynn?
This one also has the title Savage Islands and is free on Prime, so the investment is kind of easy.