Almost from the first pages of Captain Blood I thought it would make a perfect Errol Flynn movie, so you can imagine my joy when I found out that such a movie really existed.  Captain Blood will happily be a part of two of my challenges: “Read the book, see the movie” and Historical Fiction.

This is my second Rafael Sabatini. I don’t remember why I picked up Scaramouche early this year, but after the fun I had I wanted to read more of him. As with Scaramouche, I heard Captain Blood in an audiobook read by Robert Whitfield – his flawless pace and clear diction were ideal for my mind’s eye to picture in detail all the sea battles and land invasions.

As the story goes, Peter Blood, a country doctor during the reign of James II, was minding his own business and geraniums when he is called to attend a friend injured during an attempt to de-throne the King and put in its place the Duke of Monmouth. For this kindness, Blood is accused of treason and sentenced to slavery in the British colony of Barbados.

Bought by the malevolent Colonel Bishop of the Barbados Militia, Dr Blood’s medical training soon becomes highly valuable in the island. There he also meets Arabella, the niece of Colonel Bishop. Between them there is from the start an obvious attraction and some of the books’ biggest delights is following their sharp-witted clash of minds and see them plunging deeper into endless misunderstandings (it’s like Jane Austen with an edge!). Blood’s dialogues with his enemies are also particularly well done and beyond what you would expect from a typical pirate story.

Some months after their captivity, Peter Blood and a group of his fellow slaves take over a Spanish ship and although the now Captain Blood finds freedom, he has no alternative but to become a pirate. It’s a risky and harsh business, but our hero is a natural! A gentleman-pirate, he does what he must while always following a strict moral code – “He’s chivalrous to the point of idiocy“.

The story includes piracy grand-scenes, clever strategies, near misses and cannon hits. There’s treasure, kidnapping and enough romance to keep the romantics entertained. Some scenes go by too fast and there are quite a few lucky coincidences, but in the end it’s a swashbuckling classic I really enjoyed it.

The movie is a 1935 Warner Bros adaptation with a young Errol Fylnn taking the lead. Arabella is Olivia de Havilland, better know as Melanie from Gone with the Wind. I’ve read that the part of Blood was initially meant to be given to English actor Robert Donat, but after he left the studio, they decided to take a chance with Flynn. All Movie Guide says:

This seemingly outsized swashbuckler was actually a very economical production, using stock footage from several silent films. Captain Blood transformed the 26-year-old Errol Flynn into a star; he’s a little clumsy in the dialogue department at times, but cuts a dashing figure in the action scenes.

The clumsiness of dialogue is especially noticeable when Flynn is half-heatedly attempting an Irish accent, but even that is forgettable once he shows his dimples. The book was first published in 1922 and I think the 1935 movie really captures it’s mood: they are both unpretentiously fun. IMDB tells me there’s a re-make in the works (what’s with all the remakes lately, is there no other books/ideas to pick-up?), to come out in 2011. Let me know if you know who’s playing the lead!

Here’s the 1935 trailer – the drama!

PS: You gotta love the cover of the original edition! Not exactly very faithful to the tone of the book, but at least it’s far from the pirate covers you so often see…