Saturday, 29 December 2012

"Captain's Share! I Bespeak Her!"

I've been watching The Crimson Pirate over the holidays, and remembering why it is one of my favourite pirate films of all time. Burt Lancaster and Nick Cravat swinging on ropes and bouncing around all over the Italian fishing village that was standing in for the Caribbean, daring escapes and double crosses, and even a hot air balloon! It's all great good fun.
Light-hearted or not, from the first moment Eva Bartok as the beautiful Consuela sets foot on the deck of Captain Vallo's ship, she is at risk of rape.
"Why did you bolt your cabin door last night?" Vallo (Burt Lancaster) asks her.
"If you know it was bolted, you must have tried it, and if you tried it, you know why it was bolted," she says, having already pulled a knife on two pirates who were leering at her.
And later, after a couple more twists of the plot, she and her father are the pirates' prisoners - so they put her in a swing, up in the rigging, and set up a greasy pole to it. Whoever climbs the greasy pole, gets the girl - whether she wants it or not.
Captain Vallo stops that, but it's all presented as "a bit of fun".

The Crimson Pirate isn't the only film with this attitude. Okay, it was made in 1951, and The Black Swan (one of my other most favourite pirate films of all time) was made in 1943. That's where the title for this blog post comes from. In the first scene where Tyrone Power meets Maureen O'Hara, he sees her only as part of the plunder from the castle his men have stormed to rescue him. He claims her for himself, knocks her out cold, and then dumps her on the floor like a sack of potatoes.
Later in the film, he attempts to woo her in a more gentlemanly way - but that doesn't stop him from kidnapping her when it appears she's about to marry the wrong man! The boyfriend turns out to be one of the villains of the piece, though, so that's all right!

Kirk Douglas was doing the same sort of thing in 1959, when he made The Vikings. Again, it's one of my favourite films of all time - Vikings storming a medieval castle by throwing axes at the gates and climbing up them! Wonderful stuff! Tony Curtis almost getting eaten by crabs while tied to a stake in a rock pool! And Einar (Kirk) capturing Janet Leigh, who he keeps aboard his ship while the Vikings party - and gets drunk, and rows over to the ship to have his evil way with her. It's fortunate that Tony Curtis is a gentleman, and manages to rescue her.

So, three films that I grew up with, and love dearly, despite their flaws when it comes to women. It would be nice to think that film makers have become more enlightened since the 1950s - but I'm not sure there's been all that much improvement, or we wouldn't have something like the Beschdel Test to see how fairly women are portrayed now.

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