Release Date(s)1962 (October 17, 2017)
Studio(s)Hammer Studios/Columbia Pictures/Sony Pictures (Twilight Time)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: C+
As most fans know, Hammer Studios was known primarily for genre films, specifically science fiction and horror. Only occasionally would they branch out and do something a bit out of character. Such is the case with The Pirates of Blood River. Released in 1962 on a double bill with Mysterious Island (also a Twilight Time Blu-ray release), this swashbuckling period piece tells of a French penal colony made up of a group of Huguenots. Within their ranks is an adulterer named Jonathan (Kerwin Mathews), who once being caught, is cast out of the community, only to wind up in the hands of a group of pirates led by Captain LaRoche (Christopher Lee). Believing that Jonathan comes from a village with a hidden treasure, the captain forces him to lead he and his men to the village so that they may obtain it.
The Pirates of Blood River is an odd film all around, juxtaposing the pirate genre against a Puritan backdrop. Performances are generally decent, including Christopher Lee doing his best with a French accent. Hammer Studios regular John Gilling takes the directing reins on this one and does a fine job with it. However, it does have a couple of problems: it drags a bit in the second act, and its story tends to be unfocused in places, particularly during the pirates’ arrival at the village when the drama of the main narrative thread takes a back seat to two rival pirates (one a fresh-faced Oliver Reed). In other words, the setup is far more interesting than its eventual payoff. That said, The Pirates of Blood River is still a welcome surprise. It never manages to surpass expectations all that much, but it has enough elements to make for a mildly entertaining watch.
Twilight Time’s release of the film features a transfer that’s a little problematical, but looks quite good despite itself. There’s an obvious lack of fine detail and grain in the image with facial features sometimes appearing too smooth, suggesting that the transfer could be from an older master. There’s also some instances of color breathing, although they aren’t overt and appear mostly during outdoor scenes. All in all, everything looks good in motion with satisfactory brightness and contrast, decent black levels, and a fairly clean and stable frame. The audio for the film is presented in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. It’s a fairly flat presentation without much in the way of dynamics, but dialogue reproduction is good. Score and sound effects have decent fidelity to them, but sound rather dated without much of a push.
The extras for this release are lean, but there’s a couple of things worth checking out, including an isolated music and effects audio track in 2.0 mono DTS-HD; an audio commentary with the film’s writer Jimmy Sangster, its art director Don Mingaye, and film historian Marcus Hearn; the film’s original theatrical trailer; a scroll-through of the current Twilight Time catalogue; and as always with Twilight Time’s releases, an 8-page insert booklet with a terrific essay about the film by Julie Kirgo.
While The Pirates of Blood River exhibits a studio stepping outside of their comfort zone and trying something that different, it ultimately didn’t win over too many folks initially. I don’t count myself as a Hammer Studios connoisseur, but I definitely appreciate what the film was trying to do with the material. It isn’t perfect, but it has charm and is quite watchable, especially for a lazy Saturday afternoon at home. Twilight Time’s presentation of it leaves a tiny bit to be desired, but seeing it in motion will convince you that it isn’t as bad as you might think.
- Tim Salmons