Captain Blood (1935)

Captain Blood
Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland

'Captain Blood' is a swashbuckling adventure film, one of the first true action-adventure films of the sound era, made in 1935, directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Lionel Atwill and Basil Rathbone. It was Flynn's first lead role in a feature film and it made him a star overnight. The film also marks the first of eight romantic costume pictures in which he would co-star with Olivia de Havilland whose refined prettiness was the perfect foil for his athletic exuberance.

The screenplay was written by Casey Robinson, and is based on the Rafael Sabatini's novel of the same name. The plot is solid and carefully constructed, full of action, thrilling sword fights, sea battles and romance and is matched by a wonderful musical score from one of Hollywood's greatest composers, Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

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'Captain Blood' was well received on release, by both critics and public. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture but lost to 'Mutiny on the Bounty', and was also nominated unsuccessfully for Best Sound Recording. It nevertheless holds up admirably after so many years and is still one of the best pirate films ever made.


Flynn plays Irish doctor Peter Blood, unjustly convicted of treason for tending to a wounded friend, and shipped off to slavery in the Caribbean. He escapes and turns pirate and is pursued by his former slave owner whose daughter, Arabella, is romanced by Flynn. He also falls out with an evil French buccaneer faultlessly played by Basil Rathbone which leads to a remarkably satisfying sword fight to the death.


Jack Warner had noted that 'Treasure Island' and 'The Count of Monte Cristo', both made in 1934, had become extremely popular, and had gone a long way to reviving the Hollywood swashbuckler genre.

MGM were in the process of making a seafaring adventure movie in 1935 with 'Mutiny on the Bounty', and Warner made the decision to remake 'Captain Blood', which had originally been made in 1924 as a silent movie. It was based on the 1922 bestselling novel by Rafael Sabatini, the rights to which Warner Brothers had purchased in 1925.

Warner selected no-nonsense, Hungarian born Michael Curtiz as director with originally Robert Donat in the title role. When Donat dropped out, Leslie Howard was seriously considered, along with other top names including Fredric March, Ronald Colman, Clark Gable, George Brent and Brian Aherne. Jack Warner felt that the basic material and supporting cast were strong but that they were taking a big risk without including any big name stars.

Nevertheless, with the encouragement of Curtiz, the pivotal lead role was finally given to unknown Errol Flynn, a Tasmanian born Australian who had been recommended to Curtiz by Flynn's then wife, actress Lily Damita. It was an inspired choice. The handsome, athletic Flynn was an instant hit and the film made him a major star.

Curtiz was an arch professional and drove his young stars hard. Some of Flynn's early scenes took as much as ten takes and his earliest efforts were reshot by Curtiz later in the production when Flynn's initial nervousness was less obvious.

The part of Arabella was originally offered to Marion Davies before selecting the unknown nineteen-year-old Olivia de Havilland.

During the shoot, Flynn collapsed and passed out. After Warner had thoroughly chastised him for drunkenness, doctors revealed that he had suffered an attack of malaria which he had contracted in the South Pacific.

Battle Scenes
'Captain Blood' was one of the first true action-adventure films in the Talkies era and includes some exciting battle scenes. No full-sized vessels were used for the scenes. Curtiz used a combination of miniatures and rear projection shots.

The exciting battle sequence, when Blood and his pirates take the French ships, required a large technical team together with some 2,500 extras.

Most of the movie was shot on soundstages at Warners studio but some of the exteriors were shot on location at Laguna Beach, including the famous sword fight between Rathbone and Flynn.

Main Cast

Errol Flynn ... Peter Blood
Olivia de Havilland ... Arabella Bishop
Lionel Atwill ... Colonel Bishop
Basil Rathbone ... Levasseur
Ross Alexander ... Jeremy Pitt
Guy Kibbee ... Hagthorpe
Henry Stephenson ... Lord Willoughby
Robert Barrat ... Wolverstone
Hobart Cavanaugh ... Dr. Bronson
Donald Meek ... Dr. Whacker
Jessie Ralph ... Mrs. Barlow
Forrester Harvey ... Honesty Nuttall
Frank McGlynn Sr. ... Rev. Ogle
Holmes Herbert ... Capt. Gardner
David Torrence ... Andrew Baynes
J. Carrol Naish ... Cahusac
Pedro de Cordoba ... Don Diego
Harry Cording ... Kent
Leonard Mudie ... Baron Jeffreys
Mary Forbes ... Mrs. Steed
Edward E. Clive ... Clerk of the Court
Colin Kenny ... Lord Chester Dyke


Director ... Michael Curtiz
Producer ... Harry Joe Brown
Production Company ... Cosmopolitan
Story by ... Based on the book by Rafael Sabatini
Screenplay ... Casey Robinson
Music ... Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Format ... B & W
Release date ... December 28, 1935
Running time ... 119 minutes

Academy Awards

No Wins:
Two Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Picture ... Cosmopolitan
Best Sound Recording ... Warner Bros. Sound Dept, Nathan Levinson, Sound Director
In addition the movie had three unsuccessful write-in nominations:
Best Director ... Michael Curtiz
Best Screenplay ... Casey Robinson
Music (Scoring) ... Warner Bros.-First National Studio Music Dept.
This was the final year that write-in candidates were allowed.