well as their horror sucesses, Hammer had a heritage of adventure films
dating back to the late 1940s with their popular Dick Barton trilogy.
After the amazingly sucess of their X-rated horror titles they had some
sucess with X-rated adventure films Stranglers of Bombay (1959) and Terror of the Tongs
(1962) but the big money was still in family entertainment and although
their next project began work as another X-rated picture, a few choice
cuts saw it released with a U rating.
A small colony of
persecuted Huguenots have made a home on a remote island and set up a
community there. For a hundred years they have survived but recently
have become dominated by religious extremists. When Jonathon Standing
(Kerwin Matthews), son of the island's leader Jason (Andrew Keir) is
caught in an adultarous affair, he is sentenced to the penal colony for
15 years. After harsh punishment there he escapes but finds himself at
the feet of a group of pirates lead by Captain LaRoche (Christopher
Lee) who have discovered the island and want someone to lead them to
the main settlement, where they suspect there might be a treasure
experienced horror writer Jimmy Sangster was tasked with coming up with
a pirate story that could not feature any ship action due to the film's
low budget. Fortunately he handles the task pretty well and provides a
story that balances swashbuckling with plot. Despite the shots of a
pirate ship under the film's title sequence, the pirates themselves do
not arrive for some 20 minutes - letting us instead learn about the
islanders and their way of life, making it distinctly clear that this
is not an island at peace with itself. Surprisingly for the era, the
story contains some very strong statements about the cruel nature
of extreme Christianity and seems to be particularly critical of the
way that the island leaders cite themselves as God's representitives on
In fact it is almost a pity when the pirates do turn up
as the story of the islanders had enough potential to make a feature
film (although a rather darker one for sure). The rest of the film is a
rather typical story of a village being held hostage by a ruthless crew
(and could well have worked as a western) but it certainly never drags
and has plenty of action. The climax will not disappoint, with the
leads joining in the swashbuckling and it builds to a fitting
conclusion - however with some more characterisation the conclusion
could have been genuinely emotive, something it doesn't really achieve.
John Gilling had just completed work on his own swashbuckler Fury at Smugglers' Bay
(1961) and was an obvious choice to helm this production - he does some
good work, particularly in the fight scenes (and avoids having them at
night, unlike in his often rather confusing previous
work). Despite a rather low budget the Huguenots'
village looks good and the penal colony is very impressive
although the exterior shots are clearly filmed in a temperate climate
and do not match the tropical beach seen in the model shots of the
pirate ship arriving - the script carefully avoids mention of just
where this village is. First time Hammer composer Gary Hughes provides
a solid if unremarkable soundtrack and was brought back for several
more of their adventure pictures.
Star of The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
Kerwin Matthews takes the top billing as the heroic lead Jonathon and
puts up a good display. His father is played by Andrew Keir, the first
of several roles he would play for Hammer during the 1960s. He really
suits the puritan outfits and gives probably the best performance in
the whole film, particularly in the climax (although he is let down by
the lack of characterisation). Hammer's biggest star, Christopher Lee
returns from his first foreign excursion to play the pirate leader with
a curious French accent - putting up a good performance throughout, he
really excels in the sword scenes. Future star Oliver Reed gets
a minor role as a lusty pirate with only a few lines of dialogue
while Hammer regular Michael Ripper gets one of his biggest parts as
the pirate Bos'n. A pre-Bond Desmond Llewelyn gives a brief appearance
alongside a 14-year old Dennis Waterman. The female parts are pretty
brief but Marie Devereux (The Brides of Dracula (1960)) gives a feisty performance.
script provides plenty of swashbuckling and director John Gilling gives
it his best shot despite the obvious disadvantage of shooting in an
English forest for a tropical island. Like their later Devil-Ship Pirates
(1964) it is a pity that the script does not explore more deeply some
of the themes raised but for family entertainment it is certainly more
intellegent than many stories and provides a highly entertaining 90
minutes. Recommended to fans of classic swashbucklers and a good place
to start exploring Hammer's non-horror works.
John Gilling - writer and
director of the low budget British smuggling film Fury at Smuggler's Bay (1961) and Hammer's adventure
film The Brigand of Kandahar (1965)
Several scenes with blood.
Who is it for?
Has a general appeal, certainly for fans of Hammer and Christopher Lee.
Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 widescreen. Anamorphically enhanced. Colour.
The print looks beautiful with barely a hint of damage and only light grain.
English language mono sound - sounds good throughout. French dub track.
English and French
This disc includes:
commentary with Hammer expert Marcus Hearn, script writer Jimmy
Sangster and art director Don Mingaye. An interesting and continuous
discussion about both this film and both men's careers with the studio.
Original theatrical trailer.
Other extra features are also included in the boxset.