Bonnie Prince Charlie has arrived in the British Isles determined to take his place on the throne that King George currently has, and in Scotland, he is amassing a great number of adherents keen to see him succeed. In Castle Ballantrae, the head landowner of those parts is James Durie (Errol Flynn) who lives there with his brother Henry (Anthony Steel) and hopes to marry his fiancée Lady Alison (Beatrice Campbell), but the upcoming conflict might well put a stop to all future plans. The brothers cannot make up their minds which side they should be on, so a solution is reached: they will toss a coin and one will stay behind while the other goes off to fight by the Prince's side...
Can you guess which one gets to go off and fight? That's right, it was ageing matinee idol and general all-round swashbuckler Flynn, here aspiring to a return to his golden years as a major box office draw. Alas, for him his days of huge worldwide success were coming to an end, and he would not see the close of the decade as his drinking caught up with him and sent him to a premature grave, with the likes of The Master of Ballantrae far from the film he would be remembered for. No matter that in his younger days it was exactly the kind of thing he would have sailed through with style and grace, here there was something of a vacuum where the humour and flair should have been.
That's not to complain that there was no entertainment value in this adaptation of a Robert Louis Stevenson novel at all, unless you were a big fan of the original book in which case you would be throwing up your hands in despair at what Hollywood had done with the material, happy ending and all. It's just that the whole exercise was patently in the thrall of earlier and better screen adventures, some of which starred Flynn, with a colourless and flavourless result. Luckily, as Jamie's sidekick an actor not best known for this genre was present, and brightening up the run of the mill affair whenever he appeared: yes, step forward Roger Livesey as the Irish Colonel Burke.
Jamie and Burke get a pretty good meeting after the disaster - for the Scots - of Culloden, where they encounter each other in the dilapitated cottage that the Irishman has settled in with his roast chicken. They are about to fight to the death for the food when another toss of a coin decrees that they should be friends instead, and they opt to share the meal, then head off back to Ballantrae to see how Henry and Alison are getting along. But there's trouble as the English are abroad in the land and hanging the now-so-called traitors to the King, of which Jamie is one. After a night which ends with our hero apparently dead by Henry's dagger - Jamie thought he had betrayed him to the English - the story takes a different tack.
In a move to recall Captain Blood, Jamie and Burke wind up on a pirate ship, which brightens up what was growing stodgier by the minute. The captain is the fey French dandy Arnaud (Jacques Berthier), a suitably unusual character who veers close to camp yet is a master swordsman. The stage is set for Flynn and Berthier to indulge in a duel, but before that they head off to the West Indies for a spot of timewasting plotwise, which has the running time bumped up to an hour and a half but does little to further the plot except for the nurturing of Jamie's grudge against his possibly treacherous brother. It's all very much routine, but for addicts of the old fashioned hale and hearty excursions of Hollywood it'll do, and Flynn doesn't come across quite as past it as some would have you believe, although nobody could mistake him for the star in his prime. Music by William Alwyn.