Anne of the Indies isn’t your typical swashbuckler. Yes, it has pirates, Blackbeard, a few sword-fights, and the de rigueur high seas slugfest featuring broadsides full of lead. As usual, said ships are in a rather large bathtub, but no matter.
So what makes Anne of the Indies so different?
The lead protagonist is Captain Providence, scourge of the Caribbean. That is Captain Anne Providence, play with surprising effectiveness by Jean Peters. In one of the few features featuring a female pirate in command (we are ignoring Cutthroat Island folks), the uniqueness here is not only the gender of the Captain, but how that plays into making Anne of the Indies a true treasure.
Captain Providence is very close with Blackbeard (Thomas Gomez), having been more or less raised by him and also gaining the benefit of his piratical expertise. They know how the other thinks to say the least.
So let us introduce our other key star here, and that is Pierre (Louis Jourdan), who has more than a few tricks up his sleeve. He is taken prisoner when Captain Anne captures his ship and decides to sign on as her navigator, taking a ball dress as his portion of the take. Somewhat stereotypically, the dress becomes a metaphor throughout the film. You can already feel the attraction between Anne and her new navigator.
Pierre wiggles his way into Anne’s life and her heart, simply by treating her as a lady. She feels herself falling for him, but isn’t sure what it means or how it is supposed to feel. In her blissful confusion at one point she even blurts out “How does a Frenchman make love?” Peter Blood never spoke such a thing. He knew what he was about and that divergence of perspective here is wonderful. It is around this time that Pierre gives Anne that “special”dress.
Now firmly in love, Anne sets sail again and meets up with her mentor Blackbeard, who warns her that Pierre is bad news and to watch her back. Blinded to the truth, Anne breaks with Blackbeard, knowing that the next time they meet she will be doing so as an enemy.
Almost immediately after the break with Blackbeard, Pierre tricks her into sailing for Port Royale. There she learns that not only is he a spy for the English, but that he is married as well. This part of the film gets a bit clunky and perhaps a few more minutes of screen-time would have been beneficial. In the space of literally a few minutes we go from Pierre and Anne looking starry eyed at one another to kidnapping and a high seas chase.
Confused and embarrassed, Anne escapes Port Royale along with her ship and crew, with “Mrs. Pierre”Molly (Debra Paget) as her captive. With Pierre in hot pursuit, Anne finally sets Molly adrift in a longboat just off a small island. As Pierre rushes to his wife, Anne spots Blackbeard’s sail on the horizon. Torn between the two men in her life, Anne opts to save Pierre and sails to her doom against Blackbeard.
Thomas Gomez as Blackbeard is nearly as hammy as Robert Newton as Long John Silver in Walt Disney’s version of Treasure Island. Gomez was a long-tenured character actor who got his first on-screen role in 1942’s Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror. He has that same rather maniacal gleam in his eye as Newton and comes darn near to stealing the show. His final act of thrusting his cutlass into the deck in despair as he realizes his ship has just blown Anne and her crew to bits closes the loop on Anne’s relationship- in a dramatic and powerful fashion.
What makes Jean Peters such a good pick for this one is that on the surface she is such a bad one. She doesn’t try to be Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power, though she does appear to wield a sword fairly well- though truth be told it is unclear how much of what is on screen is her and what is a double. A Maureen O’Hara didn’t have that mixture of cuteness and staggering (in my opinion) appearance of naivete that works so well here. Ms. O’Hara looks like and has the sexy stylings that make you believe she could be a pirate. That Ms. Peters has none of that alludes to the discoveries she makes in the course of these short eighty-one minutes.
Through the action and some of the dry humor of the tale, the uniqueness of this saga is Captain Anne’s constant battles with herself. She grew up and lives in the company of men, and the sudden inclusion in her world of a man who sees her as a woman drives the conflict in the picture as much as old Blackbeard’s ship the Revenge coming over the horizon.
Franz Waxman throws in a delightful score with which I was not previously familiar. It is a score very similar, though perhaps not quite as developed, as his score for 1954’s Prince Valiant. The similarities are especially obvious during the main titles. Sadly, though the film is filled with excellent music, most of it is forgotten and unavailable now. Waxman weave many themes throughout in a film probably below his pedigree. Check out the “map” scene about twenty-one minutes in for a taste. And though, I joked about ships in a tub earlier for the most part production values are above average.
Jacques Tourneur again has taken a movie where you thought you knew what you were signing up for and turns things onto their head with this fun saga of male versus female. A good yarn for kids of all ages, from one to ninety-three.
Anne of the Indies is good on a surface level as a somewhat out of the ordinary swashbuckler but shines when one looks at its emotional underpinnings.