Swashbuckler is a romantic adventure film produced in the U.S. by Universal Studios and released in 1976. The film is based on the story “The Scarlet Buccaneer”, written by Paul Wheeler and adapted for the screen by Jeffrey Bloom. It was directed by James Goldstone and was rated PG.
original film poster by John Solie
|Directed by||James Goldstone|
|Produced by||Elliott Kastner|
William S. Gilmore
|Written by||Paul Wheeler|
|Screenplay by||Jeffrey Bloom|
James Earl Jones
|Music by||John Addison|
|Cinematography||Philip H. Lathrop|
|Edited by||Edward A. Biery|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
The film was released in the UK as The Scarlet Buccaneer.
In Jamaica in 1718, a band of pirates led by Captain “Red” Ned Lynch oppose a greedy overlord, the evil Lord Durant. Durant has ruthlessly imprisoned his Lord High Justice and mercilessly evicted the judge's wife and daughter. The daughter, Jane Barnet, attempts a rescue with Lynch’s help.
(in order of credits)
- Robert Shaw as Captain "Red" Ned Lynch
- James Earl Jones as Nick Debrett
- Peter Boyle as Lord Durant
- Geneviève Bujold as Jane Barnet
- Beau Bridges as Major Folly
- Geoffrey Holder as Cudjo Quadrill
- Avery Schreiber as Pulaski
- Tom Clancy as Mr. Moonbeam
- Anjelica Huston as Woman of Dark Visage
- Bernard Behrens as Sir James Barnet
- Dorothy Tristan as Alice
- Mark Baker as Lute player
- Kip Niven as Willard Culverwell
- Tom Fitzsimmons as Corporal
- Louisa Horton as Lady Barnet
- Sid Haig as Bald pirate
- Robert Ruth as Bearded pirate
- Bob Morgan as Peg Legged Pirate (as Robert Morgan)
Pirate films had gone out of fashion with major Hollywood studios since the 1950s, due in part to high cost. The success of The Three Musketeers (1973) showed there was still an appetite for swashbucklers, so original producer Eliot Kastner prepared a pirate script where most of the action took place on shore.
"It was prepared to avoid all the hazards of filming on water and it could have been inexpensively made," said co-producer Jennings Lang. "But we decided that it would be cheating the public to do a pirate movie without boats, that would not be using the basic material."
The film was shot in Mexico and on the galleon Golden Hinde, a replica of the Golden Hind captained by English privateer, Francis Drake from 1577 to 1580, which had been moored in San Francisco harbor after a five month journey to California from England. According to the Special Feature section of the DVD, it was the only pirate movie filmed aboard an actual ship of that era.
"I just hope the audience doesn't think its too small," said Goldstone during production about the ship. "All those Errol Flynn movies—the captain's table was 17 feet long. There are parts of our ship that aren't even that wide."
Anjelica Huston was cast for her role over Martine Beswicke and Barbara Steele. Robert Morgan, a stuntman who lost his leg making How the West Was Won (1963), played a one-legged pirate. Robert Shaw said during filming:
I'm underplaying this part when all the others are overplaying. I'm trying to be real but I'm also trying to find some sort of contemporary style. It's a mix between 1976 and what we used to call panache. It's as if you were to do Gary Cooper in '76 – I stand apart and alone. In Jaws I was conscious of overplaying. I'm not ashamed of it. I had to bring those American guys up to a certain pitch of energy. But here I'm taking it down and trying to go in the other way. Trying to be real in an unreal situation. I hate all this action, I loathe it. What am I doing running around like this? I'm better off sitting down, playing a scene like I'm talking to you. What I know about life is a fair bit, but it is not contained in sword fights or running up and down the masts of a ship or taking a punch. It's doubly hard because I'm English. English actors are always being asked to play princes or generals or pirate captains. I never get to sit in a booth with a girl and have a conversation.
Geneveive Bujold made the film under her contract with Universal. She said later she did not regret making the film because "Robert Shaw is a man worth knowing."
Director James Goldstone stated during filming:
We're not doing a boffo comedy. We are not making fun of ourselves. One of the cardinal rules here is that every actor really believe what he is doing could actually happen... I hope to evoke all those feelings that audiences felt when they first saw Errol Flynn's movies, but at the same time I realise that if you saw an actual Errol Flynn movie today, marvelous as they were, you'd laugh. My job here is to keep the energy up, the motion moving forward, to maintain a level of joy.
Costume director Burton Miller said:
Instead of researching the period, I took on producer Jennings Lang's challenge for a non-historical approach and started walking along the [Sunset] Strip. I took what groupies and rock stars wear today and took it back 200 years... The film offered more avenues for self expression than anything I'd ever done before. Universal were very generous [with the costume budget].
The working title for the film was Swashbuckler, which was changed during production to The Blarney Cock. "We want to avoid the movie being considered a kid's picture," said Lang. ""We wanted a title that is arresting to adults as well as kids. This ship in the movie is called "The Blarney Cock", so we decided to make use of that name as the title."
Before release, however, Universal had a change of heart about the suggestive nature of the title and it was reverted to Swashbuckler.
The film fared poorly at the box office and was described as an "expensive flop".In Leonard Maltin's annual publication of movie ratings, the film is rated as a "BOMB. "
- A swashbuckler for all seasons Kerwin, Robert. Chicago Tribune (1963–current file) [Chicago, Ill] 04 July 1976: g4.
- A Reel-Life Swashbuckler. Kilday, Gregg. Los Angeles Times (1923–current file) [Los Angeles, Calif] 04 Jan 1976: j1.
- 'Swashbuckler' Opening Set Los Angeles Times (1923–current file) [Los Angeles, Calif] 23 July 1976: f17.
- Anjelica's Visage Wins Role Murphy, Mary. Los Angeles Times (1923–current file) [Los Angeles, Calif] 12 Nov 1975: g11.
- The Pirate Has Heart: Murray's Column Murray, Jim. Los Angeles Times (1923–current file) [Los Angeles, Calif] 17 Feb 1976: d1.
- At the Movies: Genevieve Bujold on love, marriage and acting. Flatley, Guy. New York Times 11 Nov 1977: 57.
- On Fashion: Pirate Trove of Derring-do Garb. Los Angeles Times (1923–current file) [Los Angeles, Calif] 23 July 1976: f4.
- What's in a Name? Ask the Research Department: What's in a Name? Ask the Research Department By Kirk Honeycutt. New York Times (1923–current file) [New York, N.Y] 24 Dec 1978: D11.
- In Hollywood the Producer Who Makes it Big: A joy, but a box-office flop Some producers 'snobbish' Hollywood producer By Joseph N. Bell Special to The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor (1908–current file) [Boston, Mass] 01 May 1979: B14.