Friday, July 11, 2003

Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Snapple Peach Iced Tea!

The surprisingly good reviews for Pirates of the Carribean: Curse of the Black Pearl has inspired me to recall another favorite movie genre that has a poor reputation - the sea epic.

I grew up in a small New Jersey shore community, where tales of peg-leg captains, booty, weird ghosts, lost ships, and vast treasure were almost as common as fairy stories. My sisters and I used to dig under our porch when we lived in Cape May. The space under the porch was eventually blocked off, and we never found anything besides plumbing and the occasional rock, but my fascination with pirates didn't end with the end of our treasure hunting.

Two of the earliest films I recall enjoying on TV were a combination of two of my favorite genres - the pirate tale and the musical. Neither film is often seen today, which is unfortunante, as I recall both being stylish, energetic, and a great deal of fun.

The Pirates of Penzance is a wonderful version of the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta of that title. How anyone could resist a cast that includes Linda Rondstat as the gentle Major General's daughter Mabel, Angela Landsbury as the pirates' cook, and Kevin Kline as the Pirate King is beyond me. The video is (I think) out of print, but I was lucky to pick up a copy from the Wildwood Blockbuster after they (sadly) discontinued their Musicals section. The movie is stagey, but that's part of the charm, and it works well with the wild plot that involves the buccaneers of the title, a British Major General and his eligeable daughters, and the ramifications of having a birthday on February 29th.

Now I loved The Pirate Movie as a kid. It's basically a parody of the above - same plot, only set in a very modern Mabel's head. In this version, Mabel is a scrawny Australian girl with a hopeless crush on a cute guy taking part in a local pirate festival. She's capsized while following the object of her affections and a group of obnoxious friends of hers, which is how we get to the Pirates of Penzance segment. From here on in, the story becomes a mix of the original (which was making fun of 19th century theatrical conventions to begin with) and a parody of just about everything else from the 70s and early 80s you can imagine. I haven't seen this movie in years and am seriously considering looking it up at or eBay. It usually gets very poor reviews, especially when compared to the original, but I think it still sounds cute (if a little cheesy and dated).

I taped two wonderful pirate tales, The Crimson Pirate and The Black Swan, when I was in college. They're delightful bits of Technicolor swashbuckling blarney with great casts (Burt Lancaster in the former, Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara in the latter).

Odd as it may seem, I don't own any of the Errol Flynn pirate movies, though I have seen The Sea Hawk. I'm also a huge fan of pirate fiction. I've read almost all of the Sabatini books, including Captain Blood, and own a delightfully cheesy romantic paperback pirate novel, The Sword and the Shadow. I read a great historical novel about real women pirates, Anne Bonney and Mary Read, a while back. One of the books I read every summer is The Pyrates, a hilarious Mel Brooks/Monty Python-esque take on pirate epics, both in print and on film.

I guess it comes from growing up by the shore, but there's something about a good old-fashioned swashbuckler that sends my heart racing. Maybe I'll never find treasure (or Johnny Depp), but I can imagine myself finding treasure, riding the seven seas with a motley crew of buccaneers and heading off into the Technicolored sunset in search of glory and booty...but mostly booty.