Sunday, October 29, 2023

The Pirates of Capri (1949)

The Pirates of Capri is an oddity in Edgar G.Ulmer’s career as a director but then when you think about it his entire career was full of oddities. Usually extremely interesting oddities. The Pirates of Capri is a swashbuckling adventure. It’s an Italian-American co-production shot in Italy.

It is 1798 and a warship is on its way to Naples carrying a shipment of arms, the fiancée of the Count of Amalfi and a troupe of acrobats. The acrobats are actually pirates and they seize the ship. The pirates are led by the notorious masked Captain Sirocco.

Captain Sirocco (Louis Hayward) is in fact the Count of Amalfi. In his Sirocco guise he is a handsome dashing very masculine pirate. In his Count of Amalfi guise he is a fop and a fool.

Of course this is hardly an original idea. It’s the same idea behind the Zorro books and movies. And Zorro was just a riff on Baroness Orczy’s the Scarlet Pimpernel. What matters with such dual rôles is finding an actor who can be equally convincing as both fop and hero. Is Louis Hayward up to the job? The answer is a resounding yes.

The pirates are not regular pirates. They’re revolutionaries seeking to overthrow the government of the Queen of Naples. There’s an interesting split in the ranks of the revolutionaries. Sirocco is a moderate. He wants to keep the queen on her throne. He just wants to get rid of her government, and mostly he wants to get rid of the vicious sadistic chief of police, Baron Holstein (Massimo Serato). He wants to avoid a bloodbath. The extreme revolutionaries want a bloodbath and they model themselves on the French revolutionaries so they’d be quite happy to lop off the queen’s head.

There’s a romantic complication. The Count of Amalfi’s intended bride is Countess Mercedes Villalta de Lopez (Mariella Lotti). She’s not keen on marrying the foolish count of Amalfi. Although initially horrified by Sirocco she has started to lose her heart to him. He’s the kind of action hero that any girl would fall for. Of course she has no idea that the Count of Amalfi and Sirocco are the same man.

There are plenty of fairly full-blooded action scenes. There’s a cruel villain who likes to torture young women. There’s the whole fighting for freedom thing (with a few twists). And there’s a suitably heroic hero. It’s a formula that should work, and it does.

On this occasion Ulmer has a reasonable budget to work with and it shows. The movie is visually reasonably impressive.

Louis Hayward is in splendid form. The other cast members are all quite competent.

The movie is fairly sympathetic to the revolutionaries, or at least to moderate revolutionaries such as Sirocco. Politically Sirocco falls halfway between being a reformist and a true revolutionary. You don’t really have to worry too much about the politics. The movie is perhaps a little naïve in that department anyway. This film can be enjoyed as a straightforward romantic swashbuckler.

The Pirates of Capri
is energetic fun. It’s Ulmer’s only swashbuckler although a few years later he did attempt an historical epic with Hannibal, an unjustly neglected movie.

Louis Hayward’s performance and Ulmer’s lively direction make The Pirates of Capri an enjoyable experience. Highly recommended.

This is a hard-to-find movie. I came across a French DVD from Artus Films which includes the English version (with removable subtitles) and it offers an acceptable transfer. There are no extras. That DVD is still in print and it’s your best chance of seeing this movie.

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