January 13th, 2021

Strange Shame

One Out of Seven

Despite the popularity of pirate films in the mid-20th century, there were surprisingly few made about the infamous Barbary pirates. 1953's Raiders of the Seven Seas takes one of the first and most successful of the Barbary pirates, Barbarossa, and changes nearly everything about him. A pirate whose exploits occurred primarily in the Mediterranean is depicted as a menace of the Caribbean and as a liberator of slaves instead of a procurer. For a low budget pirate film with a B list cast, it was better than I expected but not by much.

Nearly everyone was miscast, including John Payne as Barbarossa. The real life Turk is portrayed as a Spaniard (in the service of Morocco) by an American actor who makes no attempt to do anything with his accent. The stilted dialogue comes out like a type writer from him and other Americans in the cast but Payne at least had some star quality and roguish charm. He has exactly one good sword fight against a villain, played by Gerald Mohr, possibly the most miscast person in the film.

MST3k fans will remember him from Invasion USA in which he plays, as he so often did, a cheap substitute for Humphrey Bogart. Which makes him stick out like an even sorer thumb in this movie.

Despite the fact that the real Barbarossa died in the 16th century, I did appreciate some historical authenticity in the film's chosen time period of the early 17th century. Nobody wears tricorne hats. And I like how the hold of Barbarossa's ship is portrayed as disgusting.

That's Donna Reed, the biggest star in the film, though she really has no business playing a Spanish noblewoman. She looks fantastic, though, and she fills out her gorgeous costumes perfectly.

Lon Cheney Jr. plays Barbarossa's helmsman unremarkably. I guess it would be a spoiler to tell you he dies in the film except later, thanks to lousy editing, he turns up back at the helm in the background of a shot.

So I don't really know what to tell you.

After the decent sword fight in the middle, the end is anticlimactic. But there are worse pirate films.

Raiders of the Seven Seas is available on Amazon Prime.

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