The Spanish Main (1945) | Movie Review

Hello, and welcome to the first post of #SwashbucklerMonth! If you missed my intro explaining my plans, you can read it here.

To start it off I want to share with you a review of my absolute favorite swashbuckler, The Spanish Main. It stars a splendid cast consisting of some of the best: Paul Henreid as the daring Dutchman, Maureen O’Hara as the Spanish Condesa with a fiery (Irish) temper, Walter Slezak as the unscrupulous Governor, John Emery as a traitorous first mate, and Binnie Barnes as a more feminine depiction of Anne Bonney.

Here is a short bio of the film. Well, as short a bio as I could muster in dealing with one of my favorites.

The Spanish Main (1945)

Laurent Van Horn is a Dutch captain leading fellow immigrants to a new home in the Carolinas. When their ship is wrecked in a storm off the coast of Cartagena, he comes before the Governor to ask for assistance. But the governor is a cruel man named Don Alvarado who takes from Laurent his land grant and imprisons him and his people. In the dungeon, Laurent meets other innocent travelers and manage to escape. In a successful attempt to divest Alvarado of all that he has, Laurent becomes the fierce pirate Barracuda, continually managing to slip out of the governors grasp in each incident.

On her way from Spain to marry the Governor is the Condesa Francesca, a proud young woman with a mind of her own. She has never seen Don Alvarado and hopes that he is handsome and debonair. Amid voyage, their ship is attacked by the Barracuda. Laurent takes extra delight in this last theft of his, the abduction of Alvarado’s bride, and to cause him further injury, demands the Condesa marry him instead. Though enraged at the pirates insolence, Francesca agrees to marry him to avoid continual bloodshed. It isn’t long before she realizes she is attracted to the Dutch rogue, but her noble pride prevents her from admitting it.

Laurent takes her to Tortuga while he awaits a response from Alvarado regarding the ransom of the Condesa’s companions. During that time, however, his first mate Mario Da Bilar and a fellow pirate captain named Benjamin Black, plot against him and prod the Captains of the Coast to question Laurent’s actions in striking such a blow on the Governor. In return, Laurent stands his ground and defeats Captain Black, but Mario’s involvement goes unknown. Francesca herself takes part in a duel with an irate friend of Laurent’s, Anne Bonney. The two leave pleased with themselves and each other. But before Francesca can admit her love for Laurent, the captains of the coast, Mario, and Anne Bonney, take it upon themselves to right the wrongs he has committed by capturing him and returning Francesca to Alvarado.

When Francesca arrives in Cartagena she is appalled at the plump and brutal governor and demands that he allow her to return to her father during the annulment period of her previous marriage. Alvarado denies her the privilege, saying he does not count marriage to a pirate authentic. Meanwhile, without her knowledge, he arrests the pirates that brought her, refusing to heed her word to them that they would go free.

Laurent escapes and arrives soon after on Cartagena. He is met by Mario, who unknown to him has made a deal with Alvarado for the Barracuda’s capture. Mario tells him that it was Francesca that betrayed him and now is responsible for the imprisonment of his friends. Before he decides to believe him, Laurent visits Francesca at the fortress. She is more than pleased to see him but he confronts her with Mario’s charges. With Mario predicting his actions, Alvarado catches Laurent on her balcony and his crew nearby.

Francesca is the only one who can save them. She smuggles weapons in to the prisoners and they fight their way out. Laurent is elated to see that she was telling the truth. Once free, Laurent and some of his crew disguise themselves as members of the church, and accompany Francesca to Laurent’s own ship where Alvarado waits to be married to his bride.

Ending (don’t read if you haven’t seen it and don’t want the ending ruined)

Laurent and his crew quietly take the ship back and endeavor to slip past the fortress as though it were the Governor’s decision. With instructions to shoot if the ship budges before morning, the men on the wall deliver a volley before deciding that it must be that the Governor’s changed his mind. Alvarado soon dies from a knife wound he received. Laurent and Francesca, once again together, sail off into the early morning sun.

Little Facts

Naturally this film has all the stereotypes and cliches Hollywood normally musters: vengeful pirate captain, predictable romance, dilution of true pirate character, etc. At one point, Benjamin Black, played by Barton MacLane, says one of the most humorous and yet grossly inaccurate statements of the movie when he states, “I’m a pirate, not a womanizer.” There are certain things that bust me up and this is one of them. Pirates are lawless, that says it all.

The fact that Irish born Maureen O’Hara plays the part of a Spanish condesa is also rather amusing but her acting is always so stellar that I can’t bring myself to criticize even that bit of raw Hollywood. Other choices for the role of Francesca were Merle Oberon, Laraine Day, and Mexican-American actress Margo Albert. I know nothing of the last actress and would not have chosen Day, but I must admit, I think Merle Oberon could have been a good choice. At least she would have looked more Spanish. But I am pleased in spite of it that they cast O’Hara. In fact, O’Hara is the common denominator in many other good swashbucklers, some of which I will talk about here in the days to come.

But aside from the silliness of Hollywood, you can’t ask for a better pirate movie in my opinion. Henreid has the proper amount of dash and chivalry while retaining a strong vengeance toward his enemy, Don Alvarado. He is heroic and daring, and although I do not claim to be a fan of all his movies, this one takes the cake. I read recently that he was the one responsible for the film in the first place. He created the idea in an attempt to change his acting character from the ladies man to something adventurous and heroic. Naturally the film changed as it went through writers but in the end he was satisfied, which is really unusual in such cases.

Walter Slezak plays a remarkable bad guy, similar to his character in The Inspector General. But I like him better in roles like the one in Bedtime for Bonzo, People Will Talk, and Come September.

Many seafaring adventure novels created since this golden era of swashbucklers have followed similar plots. One of the posts I will share in the near future I plan to discuss some of these, sharing with you the good ones and the not so good ones.

The costume for The Spanish Main was exemplary and the colors were early Technicolor vivid. I have planned a post on costume so we’ll see what comes of that. I particularly adore the miniatures designed for the outside shots of each ship and sea battle.

One last thing, I am going to be schoolgirlish and say that the love story between Francesca and Laurent is so sweet. He marries her out of spite and then they fall in love with each other. It may be typical but it is so romantic. And sometimes typical can be just as lovely as unique.

And that does it for The Spanish Main review. I hate to have it end so soon, but then again, if you want to know more about it I would recommend you see it, if you haven’t already.

What do you think? Does my review entice you to see it? Have you already seen it and want to share your own opinion? Please let me know! I love a good movie conversation. Plus, if you haven’t noticed, I have just recently added Disqus comments to my blog to make it easier for people to leave a comment. Let me know if this works out for you!

See you again soon for the continuation of #SwashbucklerMonth!


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