I'm really going to have to see Against All Flags (1952) a second time before I make up my mind as to whether I kinda like it or really like it. I definitely liked a lot of aspects of it, and disliked a few things, and it's going to take that second viewing for me to settle just what I think of it. However! I really want to review it for We Love Pirates Week, so you're getting my initial thoughts today.
First, the things I loved: Errol Flynn and Maureen O'Hara. They are both perfectly enjoyable here. Worth every penny of the price of admission, for sure.
I've only seen older Flynn once before, in The Sun Also Rises (1957), but he's just a side character there, and my eyes were meant for Tyrone Power in that one. Here, he's in his early '40s and just at the age I tend to find most men to be their most attractive; I have to say, Errol Flynn is no exception. Sure, I love him as Robin Hood, and I enjoy his performances as young and cheeky pirates, or as young and cheeky cowboys, but the only other time I've found him this interesting was in Cry Wolf (1947), where he also had a more mature gravitas going on behind the charming suavity.
In Against All Flags, Errol Flynn plays Brian Hawke, a British naval officer who is pretending to have deserted after being flogged. Really, he's spying out the pirate stronghold on Madagascar so the Royal Navy can swoop in and drive out the pirates who are disrupting their trade with India.
He's got to convince the pirates there that he's really turning pirate himself, along with two sailors who supposedly met him in the brig and agreed to escape with him.
As for Maureen O'Hara, she is breathtakingly lovely and insistently fiery. She's playing another of her trademark roles as a woman who can stand toe-to-toe with any man and give better than she gets. She is more than a match for Flynn when it comes to commanding the screen -- this was released the same year as The Quiet Man, and you know how magnificent she is in that, holding her own against John Wayne. There was no question in my mind going in that she would be capable of holding her own against Errol Flynn here.
One disappointment for me was the fact that we never get to see her character commanding a ship. I knew that this is "the movie where Maureen O'Hara plays a pirate captain," and I was really hoping to see her on deck giving orders and making daring battle plans. Which doesn't happen. This is why I need a second viewing -- I did have some Expectations that I needed the first viewing to clear away. Now that I know what really does happen in here, I'll like it better, I'm pretty sure.
Maureen O'Hara plays Captain "Spitfire" Stevens here, the daughter of a pirate captain who bequeathed his ship, his gunsmithing business, and his rank as Pirate Captain to his daughter when he died.
He also left her a map of where all the secret gun emplacements are on the island, which she framed and hung in her bedroom so that any spies would totally be able to see it with no problem whatsoever, because that's what the script demanded.
Although we don't get to see Spitfire Stevens command a ship, she does get to do battle! She proves herself a crack shot with a pistol, and also gets to take part in the giant sword fight at the end of the film. And, of course, she also trades sharp words with just about every character in the film, which is always fun.
Spitfire Stevens does not initially believe that Brian Hawke has really run off from the Royal Navy, and she remains suspicious of him longer than any of the other pirates except Roc Brasiliano (Anthony Quinn), the villain of the picture.
Now, before you lambast this film for naming the villain a ridiculously made-up name like Roc Brasiliano, let me inform you that he was a real person! Although the real Brasiliano stuck to the Caribbean and didn't hang out over between Africa and India basically ever, and he was already dead by the time this is supposed to take place (1700), it's obviously such a great pirate name that it's not surprising they decided to use it here.
Brasiliano has designs on Spitfire Stevens, as we learn in her first scene in the film when she berates him for his behavior "last night" and insists he needs to leave her alone. Which he obviously never does, being the villain of the picture. This adds some credibility to her repeated rebuffing of the heroic and charming Brian Hawke, for me. She's tired of men trying to seduce her and assumes he's going to be the same, which is a pretty safe assumption since he's played by Errol Flynn, to be brutally honest. Except for the fact that his character is a British Officer and Gentleman, so of course he's just going to be roguish, not rapacious.
Hawke is definitely attracted to Stevens, but he really is supposed to be here spying on those gun emplacements, so in theory, his attempts to get inside her bedroom are all about seeing that map she's got framed there.
He starts out only half-heartedly wooing her, but the more she turns him away, the more interested he gets... until she turns the tables on him and pursues him, whereupon he turns her down cold.
That's one of the things I like best about this, that there's a message of "both parties have to be willing and in the mood before any sort of kissing or canoodling can occur."
It's only when they've both acknowledged their attraction and are both ready for it that they can make with the smooching, and I dig that.
Now, by far my least-favorite thing about this movie is a little wisp of a girl called Princess Patma (Alice Kelley). She provides a big chunk of our plot, as she's a sultan's daughter but gets kidnapped by pirates, and woe be unto the whole British Empire if she gets molested by pirates and the sultan finds out that the British Empire failed to protect her. So Brian Hawke has to stop everyone from finding out who she really is, save her from getting auctioned off as a "lawfully wedded bride" to any pirates, and generally safeguard her whenever possible. And that's all good stuff, it really is. Much conflict. Very good.
She's the stupidest sheep of a girl ever and, after forcing a kiss on Brian Hawke when he rescues her initially, she pursues him relentlessly, insisting he kiss her "Again?" every chance she gets. Which does provide some nice humor, as Hawke tries to find chaste and boring ways to kiss her as he gets more and more fed up with her stupidity.
But my word, she was so ANNOYING that I got very tired of her after her first scene and had to roll my eyes every time she showed up after that. She's a great example of how NOT to write innocent girls with crushes on pirates, I guess, but that's the best I can say for her.
Anyway. On a whole, it's a very jolly hour and twenty-four minutes with some good set pieces and exciting fights, and the chemistry between O'Hara and Flynn is everything you'd want it to be, so I'm calling it a win, over all. And you know what else is a win? You can watch it for free on Amazon Prime right now!
Also, belay me, but Anthony Quinn pulls off the pirate look extremely well. If he wasn't the villain of the piece, I could find him rather fascinating.
This is my final contribution to We Love Pirates Week, which I've had so much fun hosting. Thank you to everyone who has participated, whether by contributing a post or just playing the games and commenting on other people's posts. Don't forget that the giveaway ends at midnight tonight, so get your entries in while you still can!