“We put our hands to a bargain. To make my hand good, I’ve been spread eagle, flogged. I’ve called red-handed cut-throats my friends. I’ve stood by and watched murders and worst…and that’s not all. With daily and nightly prospects of the plank at my back, I crawled; made myself agreeable in all ways to the vilest harshest she-monster that ever came out of the sea! And I think all the oceans never wash me clean again!” – A man describing Capt. Anne.
There have been pirate movies in the recent past like “Cutthroat Island” (1995), “Cabin Boy” (1994) and my very own personal favorite “Swashbuckler” (1976) which I saw four times at Radio City Music Hall. Oh yeah, I can’t leave out Johnny Depp ( even if I WANT to ) cornering the pirate market in his trilogy as Jack Sparrow. So when I read that the Movies Silently blog would helm a Swashathon in honor of the 100th anniversary of actor Douglas Fairbanks’ debut in motion pictures, I knew I wanted in. No denying, Fairbanks was the first and one of the greatest swashbucklers in movies. What boy didn’t want to be a pirate? Try out feats of derring-do, sword fights, rescuing ( and/or conquering ) beautiful damsels-in-distress and dubloons; lovely gold dubloons. But is a girl’s fate only to be the damsel-in-distress? ( See this past summer’s ANTI-DAMSEL BLOGATHON ).
I finally saw a movie I’ve been waiting to see for about thirty years. My old college class- mate told me long ago of a female pirate movie called “ANNE OF THE INDIES.” He told me this before DVDs, before VCRs, before cable tv. I’ve been waiting ever since to see it. And I finally have.
JEAN PETERS. She wasn’t one of the those top 1950’s femmes who sucked up all the oxygen out of fan magazines. She was a good solid serious actress. She’s different in each film I’ve seen her in. In “Captain from Castile” she’s wild. In noir thriller “Pick-up On South Street” she’s sullen. In “Niagara” she’s a playful 1950’s housewife on a belated honeymoon. In “A Blueprint for Murder” she is reserved, restrained and in control. In “Take Care of My Little Girl” she’s a snooty snotty sorority b*tch. In my Swashathon contribution – “Anne of the Indies” – Jean is a little bit of everything…sexy, vulnerable, sullen, reserved and fiery. To me, she even looks like a cross between Elizabeth Taylor and Mercedes McCambridge. I’m trying to think of other actresses of the time who could have gotten into this feminine tomboy role other than Maureen O’Hara. I’m coming up blank. And no, I don’t want to see Debbie Reynolds with a sword.
I hope Peters had fun making this movie ‘cuz she’s so danged serious most of her movie time. She has the chance to work with the great Jacques Tourneur of “Cat People”-“I Walked With a Zombie”-“Out of the Past” fame. As Captain Anne Providence she’s no panty waist. When the movie opens she’s being tended by the ship’s doctor ( Herbert Marshall ) for a wound. She doesn’t cry. She’s a tough cookie.
Peters: “It’s only a scratch.”
Marshall: “Oh you’ll bear a scar.”
Peters: “I bear many scars from the English.”
Marshall: “This one will mar your beauty.”
Peters: “Save that for the wenches!”
Her education is spotty at best; she can read maps but not words and she’s a bit defen-sive about it. ( She needn’t have been. Education for women was not a top priority back then. But she did get to travel ). She has closed off her emotions. But the capture of the handsome and dashing suspected spy played by Louis Jourdan awakens a whole slew of emotions I don’t think Peters’ pirate bargained for.
Before Belmondo, Depardieu, Trintignant and ( Whew! ) super pretty boy Alain Delon, there was Louis Jourdan.
( Yeah yeah, I know: Chevalier and Boyer and Gabin but really, c’mon…) He does well in this role as Captain Pierre Francois LaRochelle and not every actor can seem believable in a puffy shirt (Jerry Seinfeld that means you!) and spouting pirate dialogue. He’s sincere in his lovemaking and sincere in his anger. Maybe it’s his continental accent. Jourdan appeared in “The Paradine Case” “Madame Bovary” “Letter From An Unknown Woman” and “Gigi” and let me tell you, here in “Anne of the Indies” he is just drop dead gorgeous. No wonder Peters loses her heart. So of course, she’s first got to have him flogged and whipped within an inch of his life, and then she tends to his wounds after. Well, you know the old movie adage: “I love you / I hate you: which means I hate I LOVE you.” Peters is attracted to him and uses him for information AND to find out how Frenchmen make love. ( How else is a girl supposed to know? ) My impression is that she’s probably been dealing with some pretty rough trade in her travels on the high seas, and wants a taste of tenderness and being treated like a lady.
“You’re Captain because I made you Captain. I was a fool to think a wench could be other than a wench. What I made, I can blast!!”
Admittedly Jean Peters is no Maureen O’Hara in the swordsplay department ( who is? ) but she looks good doing what she does. She mixes it up with the head pirate of pirates: Blackbeard. Blackbeard is played with gusto and zeal by the great Thomas Gomez. Gomez’s Blackbeard mentored her – taught her everything he knows about the pirate business. She beats him in a duel ( that I suspect he “let” her win ) and their good-natured fun turns serious when Blackbeard strikes Jourdan. In defense of Jourdan, Peters strikes Blackbeard…in front of all the pirates. Nah, not a good move.
Now they are enemies.
Plot direction shifts quickly in “Anne of the Indies” and I like that. There’s more betrayal to go around when Jourdan is revealed to have made a bargain with the Devil ( the British ) which leads him to become an enemy of Captain Anne. Jourdan does a good job; he’s handsome and masculine and fits in with the time period. He looks good in the puffy shirt too as I already mentioned. He’s convincing as a paramour of Captain Anne…so it stands to reason that Peters has good reason to be ‘a woman scorned’ when the lovely Debra Paget arrives on the scene and is introduced in the film. It sends Peters over the edge. After all, she may be a pirate…but she IS a woman.
The fifties belonged to a few stars: Elvis, Debbie, Kim and of course, Marilyn. But one who is not talked about too much but who put a smile on men and boys’ face from the 50’s, and who was definitely one of the princesses of the time is Debra Paget. ( “The Ten Commandments” “Love Me Tender” “Demetrius and the Gladiators” “Broken Arrow” “Prince Valiant” and her debut in 1948’s “Cry of the City” ).
It seems Paget was the sweet voluptuous young thing in EVERYthing in the fifties. Just the sort of girl men want to marry. Paget and Peters are two opposite ideals in “Anne of the Indies”:
- One, your typical fifties wife: compliant, soft-voiced, not too many serious thoughts in her head other than how to please her husband.
- The other – strong, independent, edgy…speaks her mind, travels to exotic locales and is in charge, though being in control and being in charge are two different things.
Seeing Peters in the role of Captain Queen doesn’t seem odd to me. I was a teenager during the bra-burning, Women’s Libbing, Gloria Steinham, Ms. Generation era. But really, should she look too strange to 1951 audiences if they were used to the strong women of the forties like Stanwyck and Davis and Crawford and Hepburn? She didn’t really look strange to me but I have to admit, Peters’ Other-ness is definitely accentuated next to Paget.
These two have a nice face-off that is worthy of Crawford & Blyth and Davis & Hopkins. Paget doesn’t cower or back down in the face of Peters. She’s no wallflower. And the two women have a wonderfully spirited exchange:
PETERS: “So you’re his notion of a mate for life.”
PAGET: “If you intend to cut my throat, cut it now and be done with…”
PETERS: “Cut your throat? What do you take me for?”
PAGET: “A disgrace to our sex.”
PETERS: “His words?”
PAGET: “No, mine. He spoke no ill of you. He pitied you.”
PETERS: “PITY?! He dared to pity me, the treacherous scum!”
PAGET: “Before you blackguard him, I ask you to remember he is my husband.”
PETERS: “The best you could get for yourself?”
PAGET: “You couldn’t get him.”
Peters SLAPS Paget.
PETERS: “And you’ll never have him again.”
It’s here where Peters reveals her plan to pimp out Paget; she’ll get a pretty penny for this princess from each and every man in all the Carribbean. I have to tell you, when I heard Peters go there I howled because I didn’t expect it. I thought it was a perfect bold move worthy of any pirate captain but moreso as a woman scorned. Paget could only ask:
“Were you born in the gutter or did you choose it?!”
Peters may have the power but down deep ( or not so deep ) she’s hurt by the man she trusted ( which sometimes happens to us girls especially if he’s French ); the dashing Frenchman made unkept promises. I was kind of stunned when Paget was actually taken to the slave market and put on the block!! Whoa! Peters plays the role perfectly showing pride, bravado, hurt, defensiveness and wearing pirate togs very well. When I saw Jourdan come on the scene I wondered…how long will it be before Peters gets into a dress. ( When she does…it serves to remind us of her beauty ).
When she and Jourdan meet again, Peters holds all the cards at this point. He asks her to spare Paget’s life. Uh-unh. ( SMH! )
“Why should I spare her? Why shouldn’t I give myself the pleasure of watching your face while I…I let the men of my company throw dice for her.”
And when Jourdan think he’s insulting her, Peters’ retort is a zinger:
JOURDAN: “You like to play the man, then act one.”
PETERS: “But I’m a woman as you’re so fond of reminding me. You should have thought of that when you betrayed me. Now I’m making sure that your last thoughts will be of me.”
There’s more to the story but I’ll let it unfold for you; I haven’t given it all away. And my words can’t do justice to this rousing adventure. You’ve got to see “Anne of the Indies” for yourself. I like it. It’s lively, there are fights, there is romance and the tension between the two women…and it is just plain wonderful to see Jean Peters running and jumping and being in charge of a bunch of scurvy pirate guys. There are more entries for this SWASHATHON. Just unbuckle your swash and click here…but make sure your pants don’t fall down:
As I said, she’s no Maureen O’Hara, but you know what…Jean Peters doesn’t have to be. Being Jean Peters is more than enough.
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To Maureen O’Hara – what can I say. For my memories on seeing a great star, click below:
( H O M E )