Captain Blood – Heroically Human

I love old movies. Don’t get me wrong, I love new ones too of course. But the great classics – there’s just something so magical about them. One of my all-time favorites is Captain Blood, starring Errol Flynn. Loosely based on the Rafael Sabatini novel of the same name, Captain Blood was Flynn’s breakout role. His co-star, Olivia de Havilland was also relatively unknown before this picture. Both turned in stellar performances and launched their careers with this 1935 film.

This is the story of Peter Blood – soldier of fortune, doctor of medicine, slave of Jamaica, and captain of pirates. No matter what turn his fortune takes, our hero always maintains both his honor and his chivalry. This is what makes Captain Blood one of the greats. Peter Blood is a true hero. Never broken, never bitter, and always someone we can admire. This is what sets classic films apart from most of today’s movies. There is a clear distinction between right and wrong, good and evil, hero and villain. And yet, the heroes and villains of this picture are not caricatures. They are completely human and there is some gray shading on the scale of good and evil.

Take Arabella Bishop (de Havilland) for example. On the scale of good and evil, she is very clearly all the way on the good side. And yet, for a large portion of the story, she is both wrong and an antagonist to our hero. On the villain side, we have pirate Captain Levasseur (Basil Rathbone). Pure evil, he is nevertheless on Blood’s side for a time. And he is not without a certain code of honor. Then we have Arabella’s uncle, Colonel Bishop (Lionel Atwill). He has no honor or integrity, yet he is not solidly on the side of evil. But he is unequivocally the primary antagonist of Peter Blood – the villain we love to hate. And of course we have our hero, Captain Peter Blood himself. He is truly a hero, yet he has one foot on the wrong side of the line. This is what keeps him human and relatable. This is what makes his heroism accessible, making us believe we can be heroes too. That is why Captain Blood has stood and will continue to stand as one of the greatest pictures ever filmed and one of my all-time personal favorites.

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