“A man must sometimes laugh at himself or go mad--Few realize it.
That is why there are so many madmen in the world.”
- Captain Peter Blood
This series attempts to answer the age-old question: read the book? Or wait for the movie? (This was previously published, but worth repeating. This has been edited and lightly rewritten.)
The Book: Captain Blood, (1922) by Rafael Sabatini.
The Movie: Captain Blood, (1935)starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, and Basil Rathbone and directed by Michael Curtiz.
Plot: Doctor Peter Blood is an Irish adventurer who has retired to the peaceful English countryside to live out his days. Unfortunately for his plans, rebellion is in the air and he is drawn into the fray. Falsely accused of traitorous activities and condemned to slavery, he is sent to Port Royal, Jamaica.
In Port Royal, Blood's swift temper nearly condemns him to a slow death in the mines, but the lovely Arabella Bishop intervenes. Purchased by the cruel Colonel Bishop, Peter earns a reputation as a healer and is given privileges - but his longing for freedom only intensifies, despite falling for Arabella, the Colonel's lovely, kind, and strong-minded niece. When a chance Spanish raid on Port Royal offers Peter a chance to escape, he takes it and goes on to become one of the best known (and most principled) pirates of the Caribbean.
His daring exploits and clever campaigns become the stuff of legends, but Peter has left his heart behind in Port Royal. Can the man whose boldness and ingenuity is world-renown ever find a way to clear himself and win the heart of the girl he loves?
The Comparison: Unlike Sabatini's other pirate novel, Sea Hawk, the Captain Blood movie follows the book's plot very closely. Energetic acting by the charming leads, Curtiz's fast-paced direction and action-packed script doesn't attempt to hide the brutality of war, slavery, and piracy, yet still manages to make Blood a sympathetic character that you root for. In short, it's a great movie.
Naturally, time constraints caused some of the book's events to be edited out, including most of great pirate exploits in the book. Also, Arabella Bishop suffers in the movie. Sabatini wrote likable, strong women and Arabella is no exception: she is fair-minded and not afraid to stand up to either Peter or her peers, whether it's tending to sick Spanish soldiers or telling off some of the most powerful men in the room. She is as strong a character as Peter, though secondary. De Havilland's role is reduced to a somewhat petulant, one-note character, who is too proud to admit when she is in the wrong. A shame, really, when the real Arabella was a truly refreshing, smart character.
Conclusion: Toss-Up - You should Read and Watch it!
The book is epic and fun, and though it suffers a little in prose, the characters are engaging, the action exciting, and the plot is entertaining. The fact that I've read it three time might just show you how much I like it.
The movie is a classic - big ships, big action scenes, good fencing scenes, grand drama, star-crossed lovers, top-notch directing, a solid soundtrack by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and it made stars out of then-unknowns Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland.
Both the movie and the book were enormously successful when they debuted and with good reason - solid entertainment like this doesn't come too often.