Trompé Setsuled (setsuled) wrote,
Trompé Setsuled

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Pirates of Ambiguity

There is the past and then there's the Hollywood version. In some confused vortex between 1650 and 1910 is the setting for 1950's Buccaneer's Girl, an entertaining but almost completely rote pirate film starring Yvonne De Carlo.

References in dialogue to the Mexican coast sound like they were replacements for "the Spanish main" in an earlier version of the script so it can be assumed to take place at some point after Mexico declared independence in 1810. However, all the ships have bowsprit sails and other features of sailing vessels that went out of use in the mid 18th century.

I can only guess these are models reused from another film as there's nothing about the triangular jibs that were in use in the early nineteenth century that jars with a pirate film, even if the golden age of piracy is considered to have ended in the 1720s. None of this explains why all the women are dressed in a manner that could best be described as Edwardian--from the beginning of the twentieth century.

That's the great Elsa Lanchester as Brizar, the madam of a brothel where Deborah (De Carlo) finds work in New Orleans. The Hays code was still in effect so I was genuinely impressed at this film's boldness in portraying what was unmistakably a brothel. They get around it by having Deborah going to work for Brizar and taking lessons in deportment from her without explaining precisely for what purpose Deborah's being trained and employed. But it's pretty obvious.

Despite the fact that Lanchester was already at the point in her career where she would only be cast as sexually undesirable, older women, I loved that they put her in beautiful costumes in this film, many of which bore remarkable resemblance to her costumes from 1935's Naughty Marietta, which was also set in New Orleans.

I can't describe the wardrobe as being entirely Edwardian because nearly every dress has a strange bodice that cuts off halfway or under the breasts to reveal some kind of translucent bikini under which pasties can occasionally be discerned.

This is my favourite one, worn by De Carlo during the last of her unimpressive musical numbers. I like how it sort of implies sea foam.

An earlier scene has Deborah singing at a society ball where she becomes angry when two women talk during her performance. Unlike the respectful patrons of the seaman's tavern.

For obvious reasons, pirates in Hays era films could rarely behave like pirates but these must be the most neutered of varieties. The buccaneer of the title, not to get too pedantic, is of course not a buccaneer at all, not one of the exiled hunters who attacked ships from small boats but rather a debonair tycoon played by a cut rate version of Errol Flynn named Philip Friend.

When he finds Deborah stowed away on a ship he's captured, he threatens to take her to "the Tortugas", apparently mistaking the small group of islands near Florida for the infamous pirate haven on Tortuga, near Haiti. After she's warmed to him, he cautions her not to tell anyone that he lets all his victims live. Nevermind it seems like if anyone blabbed it would most likely be all those victims he allowed to live.

Yvonne De Carlo is feisty and has a lot of fun with her role. It's great watching her escape out the back when police come to arrest her at the brothel or seeing her argue with a romantic rival. Still, she doesn't get to have half as much fun as Jean Peters in Anne of the Indies or even Maureen O'Hara in Against All Flags. But the pretty Technicolor, the costumes, Lanchester, Henry Daniell in a tiny role, and De Carlo's spirit make this one worth watching.
Tags: buccaneer's girl, elsa lanchester, movies, pirate, yvonne de carlo
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