[box cover]

Pirates of Tortuga

The box for Fox's DVD release of The Pirates of Tortuga (1961) claims, "If you liked Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and Pirates of the Caribbean, you'll love this swashbuckling high seas adventure!" The assumption seems to be that no one these days remembers Hollywood's rich history of quickly made, bargain-basement pirate films — of which Pirates of Tortuga is a fine example, but far from the top of the list. Ken Scott (This Earth is Mine, Beloved Infidel) plays Captain Bart, your standard square-jawed upright hero type, hired to go undercover as a privateer in order to capture the notorious pirate Henry Morgan (Robert Stevens), who's bleeding Jamaica dry by overtaking every ship that tries to come to port. The love interest comes in the form of a scheming gypsy named Meg (Leticia Roman), who stows away on Bart's ship and dreams of a life as a real lady. When he impresses Morgan with his skills, Bart joins the fabled pirate as a partner — but, inevitably, Morgan discovers the plot and swords are crossed. There's some cheesy fun to be had watching this low-budget epic (in the '50s and '60s, those weren't mutually exclusive concepts), but for the most part Pirates of Tortuga is just sort of tedious and second-rate. Produced by Sam Katzman, a B-movie mogul who brought the world Ray Harryhausen as well as classics like Zombies of Mora Tau and Hot Rods to Hell, the film makes the best use of its ultra-low budget that it can — but modern audiences may tire of seeing the same shot of the same unmanned model ship bobbing about in the same tank of water four or five different times. Scott is both deadly sincere and wooden as hell as befits a classic B-flick actor, uttering lines like, "If we get caught, the admiralty won't be able to pull our chestnuts out of the fire"; Roman behaves in the wide-eyed, nostril-flaring manner of someone experiencing a psychotic episode; and former Olympic athlete Rafer Johnson appears very briefly (despite his second-billing on the DVD box) as the crew's only black member, a former leader of his African tribe who gives Roman a few unlikely tips on how to be less of a hussy. Poor Robert Stevens — a fine actor, memorable from The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, The Duellists, Empire of the Sun, and countless Shakespeare adaptations — overacts dreadfully, almost as if he believes that the harder he works the better the film might be. Fox's DVD release is very bright and very clean, presented on a dual-sided disc in either anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) — the film was originally presented in CinemaScope — or pan-and-scan (1.33:1). The DD 2.0 stereo audio (also offered in monaural English or Spanish, with optional English or Spanish subtitles) is adequate, but not exceptional. On board are the camp-tastic theatrical trailer, plus fun trailers for the far superior Fox pirate yarns The Black Swan and High Wind in Jamaica (which heralds second-billed James Coburn as "the screen's rugged new romantic star!") as well as Master and Commander and 1954's deliciously bad Prince Valiant, starring Robert Wagner and James Mason. Keep case.
—Dawn Taylor



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