In the wake of Jack Sparrow's unabashed success story, film companies worldwide have been digging out as many pirate-themed film reels as they can find - and if you also consider all the made-for-TV features haunting our screens in recent years, you might even argue that the pirate movie is currently enjoying a new surge in popularity; one it hasn't seen for multiple decades. Somehow, it's all leaving a bitter aftertaste, what with most of the new stuff blatantly copying Pirates of the Caribbean, and older products being rebranded to cater to the newly assembled Jack Sparrow crowd. Koch Media's new R2 release of Swashbuckler has thankfully not been as aggressively marketed in that regard as it could have been in the hands of another company, even though the name of Everyone's Favourite Pirate Captain is proudly printed in large letters on the back of the DVD cover. But hey, if that kind of thing pushes more copies of almost-forgotten gems, I'm all for it.
Swashbuckler was directed by James Goldstone (who also helmed the - in my mind, hugely underrated - Winning (1969)) in 1976. Featuring a number of moderately popular actors, it represented Universal's final stab at the swashbuckling genre for quite a while. While not as grand and pretty as, say, Polanski's Pirates, the film at least looks like it had a decently sized budget - and in a pirate movie, that makes for half the fun. Indeed, Goldstone's picture is full of vibrant costumes, lush sets, and exactly one ship. Well, it's a nice ship.
The film follows 'scarlet pirate' Ned Lynch (Robert Shaw) and his friend Nick Debrett (James Earl Jones), who count themselves among the most honorable men in the world, taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Their usual routine gets disturbed when noblewoman Jane Barnet (Geneviève Bujold) enters Jamaica, wanting to free her father from the claws of the vile Lord Durant (an apathetic Peter Boyle). Lynch, of course, falls in love with her and sets out to help her with his band of good-hearted pirates.
As entertaining as it is, the main problem I had with Swashbuckler is how Robert Shaw's costume strongly reminded me of Sean Connery in Zardoz, and that's not really something I want to recall more often than is necessary. Apart from that though, this one is a fun, if very formulaic pirate film which manages to breathe a little bit of that good old Hollywood magic; with the usual silliness accounting for the rest. Goldstone churns out a few noteworthy scenes here and there - the carriage chase being one of the film's highlights. As I hinted earlier on, real sea dogs could be disappointed by the fact that except for the opening, there are no sea battles to be found in Swashbuckler. Most of the action takes place on land. Which is not a bad thing in my books, as it results in a lot of visual variety, one aspect a movie like this absolutely depends on. On the negative side, most minor actors turn in questionable performances, including Mark Baker, who plays Durant's completely bizarre "steely-nails" crony. Also, the finale isn't nearly as memorable and exciting as it should have been.