Tuesday, June 24, 2008

DVD: Devil-Ship Pirates (1964)

Time for more Jimmy Sangster. Some Hammer Studios swashbucklers he worked on are part of Sony’s new Icons of Adventure DVD set. (Thanks to Fred Blosser, a regular at Ed Gorman’s blog, for bringing these movies to my attention.)

The first movie on the disc, 1962’s Pirates of Blood River, isn’t seaworthy. That’s not a Gene Shalit-style pun. Owing to its low budget, Blood River is the first pirate movie set completely on dry land. After some dodgy history, one cool piranha attack, and a few dull fight scenes, I gave up on it.

But Jimmy only provided the story for Blood River. He wrote the superior Devil-Ship Pirates. He’s also got a ship this time around, even if it spends most of the movie moored near the moors. (OK, that was a Gene Shalit-style pun. What the hell’s the matter with me today?)

Christopher Lee, in fine menacing form, plays the skipper of a privateer in service of the Spanish Armada. When the ship is damaged in battle, Lee is able to steer it to an isolated English village. The plan: convince the townspeople that the Armada has defeated the Royal Navy long enough to repair the vessel and escape.

As plots go it’s a gem, and Sangster finds ways to complicate matters nicely. There’s the lord of the manor in full I for one welcome our new insect overlords mode. And the ship’s sole Spanish naval officer, who slowly realizes that his choices are death at the hands of the English or a life of piracy.

The disc includes commentary from Sangster and other Hammer veterans, plus additional extras. It’s a well-produced package for some lesser-known films.

George Carlin, R.I.P.

I don’t have much to add to the many tributes to the late, great comedian all over the web. I can only say that I had tremendous respect for George Carlin as a writer, performer, and thinker. Particularly because he came from a sensibility I understand, namely New York Irish Catholic. Carlin made me realize it was OK to look at the world askance, to take nothing at face value. I always thought of him as the hipster uncle who’d show up occasionally and say, “Don’t sweat it, kid. It’s all bullshit anyway. You want some of my beer?”

HBO will be rebroadcasting Carlin’s comedy specials in the coming days. And here’s Carlin’s last in-depth interview. Hat tip to Arts & Letters Daily.