DVD: Devil-Ship Pirates, The (1964)

August 19, 2016 | By

IconsOfAdventureFilm: Very Good

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: n/a

Label:  Sony

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  June 10, 2008

Genre:  Pirates / Adventure

Synopsis: After seeing fellow ships destroyed, a former pirate ship commandeered by the Spanish Navy hides in the English channel and besieges an insular village until ship repairs are completed.

Special Features:  (to follow)




Never one to allow a genre to go unsaturated, Hammer Films wrangled producer-writer Jimmy Sangster to concoct a pirate tale for star Christopher Lee, with the end results feeling an awful lot like a variation on the writer’s prior swashbuckling credit, the story for The Pirates of Blood River (1962), in which the outcast son of a Hugenot leader returns with French pirates who lay siege to the insular community until locals manage to gain an upper hand.

For The Devil-Ship Pirates, Sangster’s script has Spanish pirates laying siege to a small English Channel village, forcing locals to mend their damaged ship during low tide before fleeing south. Lee plays Captain Robeles, a 100% cruel SOB who shoots the Diablo’s prior captain in the back when the modest Spanish Armada is virtually sunk during their attempted invasion of Britain.

After the Diablo is beached during low tide, the real cat-and-mouse game begins as the sailors attempt to lay low. A plum opportunity for coercion arrives when a young girl (Natasha Pyne) wanders to close, and Robeles realizes her village is too remote to know of the Armada’s defeat. So begins a clever ruse that initially convinces locals they’re now subjects of the Spanish, but holes appear in Robeles’ plans when there’s an escaped hostage and more than suspicious behaviour by the sailors who revert back to their ornery, selfish pirate selves.

When several challenge the authority of the ship’s lone Spanish royalist, Don Manuel (Barry Warren), the locals’ fortunes change as Don Manuel makes opportune maneuvers which weaken and ultimately threaten Robeles’ plans.

In a portent of his fine swordsmanship in Richard Lester’s The Three Musketeers films, Lee gleefully engages in a few duels (which the actor clearly enjoyed performing), but Robeles is more one-sided than Blood River’s LaRoche, a similar master manipulator, but a man with a few ounces of morals and one who stands by his word (when convenient). Robeles is just a murderer and bully, and like Blood River, there’s a hanging of locals to shock the villagers into submission; grubby, randy pirates wanting more from the women than mere groping; and complex power struggles among the pirates and locals.

In Blood River, Andrew Kier played the doomed Hugenot chief whose religious fidelity leads to hangings, a break with his rebellious son, whereas in Devil-Ship his character aids rebellious son Harry (John Cairney). Peter Arne returns to play a pirate, behaving more googly-eyed than before, while the English village is headed by a weak-willed Lord (Ernest Clark) and a silly priest (Peter Howell) who soon realizes pirates are not exactly ‘God’s children, too.’

For its extremely modest budget and sometimes variable cast, Lee’s fun to watch being mean stern, vindictive, and glowering at every turn, whereas Warren gives a sharp performance as the disgusted royalist whose small gestures slowly convince the village rebels of his fidelity to their goal of liberation. His stage training gives Don Manuel stark gravitas, but Warren never crosses over to theatricality; with the exception of uncredited roles in Lawrence of Arabia (1961), parts in Hammer’s The Kiss of the Vampire (1963) and Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), and the murder mystery Do You Know His Voice? most of his modest career lay in TV. Also of note is child actor Michael Newport who plays the boy Smiler, and has a great little scene with Lee.

Gary Hughes’ second pirate score (after the superior Blood River) is a bit bizarre; the dramatic cues are fine, but the main theme is wholly inappropriate, sounding like an unused march from a jovial WWII propaganda film. Hammer uses his opening cue to pad the Main Titles to a deadly 3 mins., but director Don Sharp keeps the pacing brisk, and ably handles the action scenes, managing to cover the demise of the Diablo with dual cameras.

That said, Michael Reed’s cinematography is eloquent but conservative, using very little camera movement or close-ups. Part of the film’s portraiture style may lie in the use of Megascope, the anamorphic process that very clearly turns peripheral objects and people very thin: when characters walk off-screen or there’s a slow pan, frame elements go through slight contortions, not unlike the old CinemaScope lenses.

Sharp’s other Hammer credits include The Kiss of the Vampire (1963) and Rasputin the Mad Monk (1966), plus the Hammer House of Horror episode “Guardian of the Abyss” (1980).

Sony’s set includes some significant extras. Audio commentaries adorn each of the four films – The Pirates of Blood River (1962), The Devil-Ship Pirates (1964), The Strangers of Bombay (1959), and the Sangster-penned The Terror of the Tongs (1961) – which will be assessed in future upgraded reviews.



© 2016 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  — Composer Filmography
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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