A NOTE FROM LINDSEY: Today on TMP, I bring you another very exciting addition to Adaptation Month: a guest post by the lovely Natalie of Many Media Musings! (Visit her blog for posts on film, television, literature and all things media, including “Reading the Book Before Seeing the Movie: When Does It Matter?” – an interesting post and topic of discussion which relates to our current theme of adaptations.) Natalie has decided to share an analysis of 1935’s Captain Blood. Without further ado, here are Natalie’s thoughts on the film and its original source novel by Rafael Sabatini:
Captain Blood, the 1935 Warner Bros. film based on Rafael Sabatini’s 1922 novel Captain Blood: His Odyssey, was one of a handful of films that heralded the return of the swashbuckler’s popularity. The plot is simple: honest doctor Peter Blood is sent to the Caribbean as a slave because he provided medical treatment to a rebel; from there, he leads other slaves into escape, becoming one of the more feared pirates in the Caribbean.
In Captain Blood: His Odyssey, Sabatini – with his snidely humorous and conversational style – writes clever observations about his characters and their surroundings, making his novel an entertaining read. The world of his novel is much richer than the world of the 1935 film, which greatly simplifies some elements of the plot and characters to create a workable two-hour movie.
A patient and intelligent man, the Peter Blood of the book, like Sabatini himself, is incredibly well-spoken – and screenwriter Casey Robinson, who adapted the novel for the screen, maintained a lot of the dialogue for the film. In the title role, then newcomer Errol Flynn delivers his lines – like, “This is what I call a timely interruption, though what’ll come of it, the devil himself only knows!” – with great panache, giving the character even more charm than his more cerebral book counterpart.
A relative unknown, Flynn, however, was not the first choice for the role. After actors like Robert Donat, Fredric March, and Ronald Coleman turned down the role, Warner Bros. went with the handsome Australian. One of the first things readers of the book may notice is that Flynn doesn’t match Sabatini’s physical description of the black-haired and blue-eyed Blood. Similarly, his costar Olivia de Havilland may not have been the most obvious choice for love interest Arabella Bishop, whom Sabatini describes as a frank and aloof boyish twenty-five year old with auburn hair – certainly not the image of de Havilland – after whom men have not sought.
De Havilland’s Arabella, in fact, is markedly different from the Arabella of the book. For one, she hints that she’s had many a beau. For another, the memorable incident in which Blood duels his pirate ally Levasseur (Basil Rathbone) for Arabella never occurs in the book, for Levasseur had captured Mademoiselle d’Ogeron, who does not appear in the movie. The Arabella of the movie is in fact a conglomeration of the traits of Arabella and of Mademoiselle d’Ogeron.
I assume that Robinson made the choice to exclude Mademoiselle for the purpose of simplicity and brevity. But in doing so, he ensured that the Flynn-de Havilland screen romance would sparkle, setting the stage for seven more pairings, making them one of Hollywood’s most legendary on-screen couples.
Had Arabella and Mademoiselle d’Ogeron both existed in the movie, there would have been a love triangle, which would have split Blood’s attentions. In the movie, his attentions are so centered on Arabella that the audience can’t not root for them to end up together in the end. Even better, it creates a perfect mirror scene with funny banter as Blood negotiates to buy Arabella from Levasseur, recalling how she bought him as a slave earlier in the movie.
The chemistry between Blood and Arabella – or, by extension, between Flynn and de Havilland – is apparent throughout the movie. To say that Flynn’s rogue charm and de Havilland’s ladylike demeanor play well off each other would be a gross understatement. For example, in the scene in which Arabella does not recognize the cleaned-up Blood, the two have a brief exchange until Blood makes an impertinent remark and then excuses himself, causing Arabella to turn dramatically away. Watch Flynn’s sly half-grin as Blood observes Arabella retreat into her house. There’s a spark between them that is found in precious few other on-screen couples. We have the simplification of Sabatini’s plot to thank for bringing this luminous pair together on the silver screen.
Though Robinson in fact leaves several more incidents and characters out of his script, he and director Michael Curtiz created a film that does more than enough justice of Sabatini’s original vision of Captain Blood. More importantly, Captain Blood still functions well as a film. Even though Blood and his fellow slaves do not make their escape until just over halfway through the story, Captain Blood never lags. There’s always something to watch in Captain Blood – whether it be the sword fights, the epic sea battles, the character story, or the incomparable chemistry of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland.