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  Devil-Ship Pirates, The Kick ArrsBuy this film here.
Year: 1964
Director: Don Sharp
Stars: Christopher Lee, Andrew Keir, John Cairney, Duncan Lamont, Michael Ripper, Ernest Clark, Barry Warren, Suzan Farmer, Natasha Pyne, Annette Whitely, Charles Houston, Philip Latham, Harry Locke, Leonard Fenton, Jack Rodney, Barry Linehan, Johnny Briggs
Genre: Action, Adventure
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 1588 and the Spanish Armada has taken a seafaring thrashing at the cannons of the English fleet, but what of the small privateer Diablo? Led by its ruthless Captain Robeles (Christopher Lee) it is purely in the battle for the money they can secure from the Spanish authorities, since this is a pirate vessel and once the tide turns against their side, with the ship taking a hit from the enemy, the Captain decides they are better off out of this carnage and set sail for the shore of Southern England so they can lick their wounds, and repair the damage. However, they have only four days available to them and are down to half the crew they started with, so what can they do to improve their odds?

The Devil-Ship Pirates was one of the swashbucklers British studio Hammer made during the course of their existence, best known for their horrors of course, but they branched out into other genres as well. It did make sense, since their accustomed milieu was not usually modern times, and quite often their productions would be set in historical eras, anywhere from caveman days right up to the early twentieth century. Thus historical adventures became a lucrative angle, especially with the matinee audiences who responded to that peculiar mixture of derring do and the grimmer, grittier sense of tone that also informed their chillers, though here was applied to an alternative flavour of movie.

Well, they were being made by the same personnel, with Jimmy Sangster on scripting duties in this case, one of Hammer's highest profile writers, if not the highest profile they ever had. This was a shade less gory than such efforts could get, though no less bloodthirsty as the Spanish pirates save on the budget as in the almost immediately previous Pirates of Blood River by eschewing the sea, unlike most films featuring buccaneers, and opted to stay on the land. Their excuse was that they were having to repair their craft, as seen in the surprisingly expensive-looking opening battle which goes some way to explaining why once the ship was built they didn't have a great deal of cash left over for the rest of the business, so it was a small village and surrounding area we settled in.

In a neat bit of scripting, those villagers are unaware the English have actually seen off the Armada, so when the Spaniard invaders announce they are the victors, they have no cause to doubt them and prepare for defeat. At least, some of them do: the authority figures capitulate, but one of our heroes (there are effectively two) is Harry (John Cairney) and he's just not buying it. Interestingly, having tussled with the Spanish before he is a disabled character, not having the use of one arm, and it doesn't hold him back as he proves himself every bit as accomplished as the able-bodied characters. That other heroic figure by all rights shouldn't be, for he is a representative of the enemy government, Don Manuel (Barry Warren), a man increasingly appalled at his situation.

But the real gem in the cast was the baddie, the pirate Captain Christopher Lee. Even by this time he had the ability to make a meal of the slimmest pickings in screen villainy, and here was no exception, barking out Sangster's lines with genuine venom, making him an evildoer to relish and bumping up the enjoyment factor a couple of levels. As this was what we were dealing with, he performed his own swordfights into the bargain, and it really made a difference as we could well see it was the actual star fencing away in a completely convincing fashion. When Lee is in the scene, he's the one we watch, which might be why Devil-Ship Pirates was more of an ensemble effort with many of Hammer's stalwarts joining in, along with some fresher faces, often young ladies to be imperilled like Natasha Pyne who suffers the indignity of having to hide up to her neck in a marsh almost overnight. There was a definite edge to these historicals, a sense that nobody was messing about, even if they were a little, but watch it for Lee to witness how a professional makes gold out of lead. Music by Gary Hughes.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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