When legendary filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille took ill before he could direct this remake of the 1938 film of the same name, his son in law, Anthony Quinn, took over behind the camera with DeMille producing. The only film that Quinn would ever direct, The Buccaneer may not have the prestige or regard that some DeMille productions do, and it may not show much regard for the historical events which it attempts to reenact, but it's a moderately entertaining swashbuckler of sorts and it's got a great cast.
Set during the War of 1812, the film follows Andrew Jackson (played by an extra salty Charlton Heston) who learns early in the film that invading British forces have burned Washington to the ground. Jackson is sent to New Orleans to defend it before it sees a similar fate befall it. Despite some squawking from a local politician named Mercier (Lorne Greene), Jackson he quickly learns of the importance of the city's geography in terms of its defense capabilities. There's only one catch - a pirate named Jean Laffite (Yul Brynner) and his motley crew of scallywags control the waterways and Jackson proclaims he would rather see the seadog hang than cooperate with someone such as he. Laffite is a man of his own moral code, however, and he declares that he and his men will allow American ships to sail through their territory safely. Of course, the fact that Laffite is in love with Annette Claiborne (Inger Stevens), the daughter of Governor William Claiborne (E.G. Marshall) makes this an easier choice than usual for the man to make, but he makes the choice regardless.
When British ships eventually appear on the horizon, they try to bribe Lafitte and his crew with money, titles and an official pardon but things don't go as planned. Eventually Jackson captures a bunch of Lafitte's men, just as more British ships arrive with enough firepower to decimate the landscape. With no other choice, Jackson strikes up an uneasy alliance with Lafitte and his comrade in arms, Dominique You (Charles Boyer), and together they fight to save New Orleans from the British, but the love of Bonnie Brown, (Claire Bloom), the daughter of another local pirate, may complicate things for Laffite.
If this isn't the most historically accurate film ever made, it's still a reasonably entertaining picture despite its tendency to play towards melodramatic stereotypes and its overuse of clichéd dialogue. The love triangle aspect of the production seems corny, the stuff of Harlequin Romance novels and it never feels authentic enough or genuine enough to have much impact on the way that things play out. With that said, Inger Stevens and Claire Bloom both look beautiful here, and as far as the plot is concerned, that's all that's really asked of them as their characters don't really develop all that much over the course of the film. Brynner and Heston are fun in the lead roles, with Heston giving it his all as Jackson and doing a fairly decent job of it. Of course, opinions will always vary when it comes to interpreting a historical figure as important as Andrew Jackson, but Heston is at least putting himself into the role and playing it with enthusiasm. Brynner is fun as Lafitte, giving his pirate character a restrained sense of nobility that works well in the context of the story being told here. He may feel more like a period nobleman than a swashbuckling pirate but that's more the fault of the script than the performance and his chemistry with Charles Boyer makes their scenes together a lot of fun.
Though it takes awhile to get there, the finale where the Battle Of New Orleans actually takes place is worth waiting for. It's a fairly epic scene with some great cinematography and good fight choreography, and you can't fault the film for its use of Technicolor. When the film isn't concentrating on the action scenes, it can feel plodding and even dry despite the fact that it's all being played by an A-list cast of Hollywood talent, but the good outweighs the bad so long as you go into this one looking for entertainment and not historical accuracy. Add to this the fact that the film benefits from excellent production values and a rock solid Elmer Bernstein score and you can see easily start to see how this amounts to a good time at the movies. In DeMille's hands as originally intended it might have turned out to be a more exciting picture than the one which Quinn ultimately delivered, but this, his only directorial offering, is still one to be proud of and one worth seeing despite some obvious, if forgivable, flaws.
The 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer was taken from a decent source but it doesn't appear to have undergone any sort of breathtaking restoration. Minor print damage pops up here and there and some color fading occasionally works its way on screen - these are the exceptions rather than the rule, however. For the most part the image is clean and shows good detail for an older film. Skin tones look lifelike, black levels are good (albeit not perfectly inky) and there are no noticeable issues to report with any compression artifacts or edge enhancement issues.
The English language Dolby Digital Mono sound mix on the DVD is fine. There are no serious issues here to note, though occasionally things sound just a tiny bit on the flat side. Levels are well balanced and there's only minor hiss present occasionally, you won't likely notice it if you don't listen for such things. There are no alternate language tracks, closed captioning or subtitle options of any kind provided.
Aside from the simple static menu and chapter selection offered, this release is completely barebones - not an extras in sight!
The Buccaneer isn't a perfect film but it's a decent historical adventure picture that makes good use of its excellent cast and which provides enough thrills in its final act to overcome the slow spots that are scattered throughout its running time. Olive Films' DVD looks and sounds pretty decent but skimps on the extra features - regardless, fans of classic Hollywood and historical epics should find enough about this to like that the release still warrants a recommendation.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.