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The Crimson Pirate (1952)

In 1922, when he was nine years old, Burt Lancaster went to summer camp. Not all that unusual with an American kid, apparently; but at this summer camp, little Burt met a boy named Nick Cravat (actually he wasn't called that then, but bear with me). They decided to become acrobats, and wound up joining a circus. Probably not quite when they were nine. They might have waited until they were ten or something. The point is, this is surely the sort of thing we should be encouraging more? Anyway, then they grew up and made films together, of which two are especially famous. The first, The Flame And The Arrow (1950), has, if I'm perfectly honest, very little plot. It's just about Burt Lancaster and Nick Cravat swinging from chandeliers a lot. Not that I mind that in the slightest, but I do prefer The Crimson Pirate. This is firstly because it has a plot, and secondly because it's about pirates. Mostly, though, it's about Burt Lancaster and Nick Cravat swinging from ropes a lot; and you can't really get a whole lot better than that.

Is there anybody in the world who hasn't seen The Crimson Pirate? I'm not sure there's any need to review the plot, but I will do anyway. There's a pirate, and he's not especially crimson, actually. He just wears red trousers. Anyway, in between swinging from ropes and jumping out of windows with his best friend Ojo, he gets caught up with rebels and soldiers. Interestingly, this leads to quite a lot of swinging from ropes. There's no treasure, which is a bit of an oversight, but there's a lovely sailing ship or two, a hot air balloon, a pre-steampunk submarine, and lots of bouncing. This is the kind of thing that's missing from the modern world, you know. Nobody swings from ropes anymore. Nobody even has ropes anymore, really. I've seen policemen chasing criminals, and not once have I seen any of them jump in and out of windows, or swing from washing lines in the process. Or shout "Avast!" for absolutely no reason. And Hollywood has forgotten how to swing from ropes, too. All their action movies nowadays involve ridiculous CGI scenes intended to look like computer games, so nothing even obeys the laws of physics, let alone looks swashbuckly. And there aren't nearly enough children wanting to be in circuses nowadays, either. Start them young, get them swinging from things, and it will make the world (and Hollywood) a better place. Trust me on this.

Anyway, and then the pirates win, and there's a girl and some kissing, though that's not a terribly interesting bit. Although it does involve a bit of rope-swinging, so it's not all bad. Also, some stuff blows up. It's not quite the perfect film, but it has a whole lot of fun not really trying to be. Basically it's what happens when you let a man make a film with his best mate, just because he wants to, and then let them start working on it even though the script isn't actually written yet. Apparently it was the inspiration for Disneyland's Pirates Of The Caribbean ride, although I'm not quite sure how. That in turn was the inspiration for Pirates Of The Caribbean, a film which is almost twice as long as The Crimson Pirate, yet has half as much happening in it. Doesn't have anybody in red trousers in it, either. Not that that would really have helped.

Sorry. Pictures!

I can see how shirtlessness amongst Caribbean pirates may be historically accurate, but I'm dubious about the baby oil.

Cool flag.

Rope-swinging on an industrial scale. This is a very promising beginning.

Very pretty ship.

And some really quite pretty clothing, as well. These aren't pirates, though. These are soldiers of some ilk.

Our heroes, in some spectacularly Hollywoodian piratical clothing, here demonstrate some gratuitously theatrical standing.

Everybody should escape from the police by back flips. They just should.

Wildly enthusiastic balcony vaulting. Also chickens.


Further wildly excitable escape-by-balcony.

Laundry-swinging. One of the first things you learn at Pirate School.

Hilariously gratuitous parallel bars sequence. Every town has convenient parallel bars positioned for maximum escape dramatics. Obviously.


It's in there somewhere. Underneath the bang.

Acting Moment.

Flame thrower!

Escape by balloon. For some reason this involves shirtlessness.

It's the world's least believable balloon. No way is that staying up in the air under its own power.

Still, it leads to things blowing up, so I'm not complaining.

And then it makes some water blow up too.

Then, just in case there haven't been enough acrobatics yet, our heroes abseil down from the hot air balloon onto the ship. As action sequences go, that's pretty damned unique.


There are ropes, ergo somebody must swing from them. I think it must be compulsory.

Unexpected Kirk Douglas impersonation.

Blink-and-you'll-miss-him Christopher Lee.

Tandem rope swinging.

He's off again. Nice view of the ship below as he swings.

He's off to rescue the heroine, but all she did was wear dresses and pout a lot, so he might just as well not have bothered.

You see, this is the problem with modern piracy. Nobody's willing to wear brightly coloured knickerbockers and ballet pumps anymore.

So there you have it. Proof positive that the world is a better place if you let your children swing from things. Not an argument that ever worked with my mother, but that's no reason not to persevere with it.

You can wait until they've grown up before you let them jump out of windows, though. If you really must.


( 10 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )
Nov. 14th, 2011 11:36 am (UTC)
I LOVED this post. I love Burt Lancaster films. And in a lot of his early ones you find those conspicuous parallel bars all over the place. Too funny. This makes me want to grab my nephews and teach them how to swing from ropes. Though that would involve teaching myself first. But they're baby boys 1 and 2, they'll pick it up naturally! The last authentic rope I ever saw was the one my dad and brother made for his batrope, complete with a carved wooden bat painted black and put together by hinges. My dad used to build 'sets' for his bedroom, the Peter Pan set had ropes, but then later he got into star trek so it became an enterprise complete with a shower curtain and motor to create the beam up effect.
Ropes are very cool, I'm glad Voyagers had rope swinging! Maybe not nearly as much as there should have been. Jeffrey in his pirate dream, Bogg swung here and there, when he had to save Annie Oakley in the barn, I loved the one in Destiny's choice when he had to save FDR from the falling hot lights.

Great post! Really funny, there should definitely be more rope swinging in this world and Hollywood should take heed. The last time we saw rope swinging it wasn't rope, it was WHIP, with Indiana Jones.
Nov. 14th, 2011 11:37 am (UTC)
And I think the princess or something in this was Virginia Mayo, not a good actress at all. All she did was pout with bright red lips.
Nov. 15th, 2011 11:17 am (UTC)
It was Eva Bartok, not Virginia Mayo, but you're right about her not doing much! I suppose it's predictable, as the main purpose of the plot is to show Burt Lancaster and Nick Cravat, and their amazing ability to swing from things. They could have done without a girl altogether.

The piratey bits in Voyagers! were great. I like to think we'd have had more of that if there had been another season. It's obvious that Jon-Erik was a natural for that kind of thing.

And your dad's bedroom sounds awesome!
Nov. 15th, 2011 12:08 pm (UTC)
Oh, I think Mayo was in another sword flick with Lancaster, not sure. lol. Yeah, Jon-Erik was definitely the pirate type! I would have loved a Bogg origin story! I'll just have to keep dreaming and writing them up.

I meant to say my dad constructed those bedrooms for my brother as a little kid. I wish they had taken pictures of them. But I vaguely remember the star trek set because at 4 years old I used to sit at the control desk and push the buttons. lol But we moved not long after that and my brother outgrew it all.
Nov. 14th, 2011 05:09 pm (UTC)
I LOVED THIS POST. I LOVE ALL OF IT. Maybe as part of the BIG SOCIETY you could be in charge of rope swinging, and the installation of asymmetric bars in random locations. Good. Get on it.
Nov. 15th, 2011 11:20 am (UTC)
I am completely on board with that plan. I should write to David Cameron and offer my services. Free ropes to be distributed to all school aged children. It certainly beats milk.
Nov. 19th, 2011 02:11 pm (UTC)
I've always liked this film. But I've never loved it. I have to say the same for "THE FLAME AND THE ARROW".
Nov. 19th, 2011 03:02 pm (UTC)
I have a terrible weakness for pirates and energetic stunts, which tends to make me less than critical of The Crimson Pirate. The Flame And The Arrow is less captivating, certainly. It doesn't have the greatest of plots.
Nov. 19th, 2011 08:15 pm (UTC)
This is a brilliant post, and your captions are a thing of beauty. That's pretty much all I can say.
Nov. 19th, 2011 11:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you. :)

All credit naturally belongs to Burt Lancaster and Nick Cravat. And their knickerbockers.
( 10 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )

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