The Crimson Pirate

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The Crimson Pirate
Crimson pirate655.jpg
Film poster
Directed by Robert Siodmak
Produced by Norman Deming
Harold Hecht
Burt Lancaster
Written by Roland Kibbee
Waldo Salt (1st draft)[1]
Starring Burt Lancaster
Nick Cravat
Eva Bartok
Leslie Bradley
Torin Thatcher
James Hayter
Music by William Alwyn
Cinematography Otto Heller
Edited by Jack Harris
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • September 27, 1952 (1952-09-27)
Running time
105 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1.75 million[2]
Box office $2.5 million (US)[3]

The Crimson Pirate is a 1952 American adventure film directed by Robert Siodmak. It stars Burt Lancaster, who also co-produced the film, as Captain Vallo, the eponymous pirate, and is set in the Caribbean late in the 18th century, on the fictional islands of Cobra and San Pero. Tongue-in-cheek, it provides light comedy touches in an otherwise dramatic story.


In the Caribbean, late in the 18th century, Captain Vallo (Burt Lancaster), a pirate known as "The Crimson Pirate", and his crew capture a ship of the King's navy. The ship is carrying Baron Gruda (Leslie Bradley), the special envoy to the King, who is on his way to the Island of Cobra to help crush a rebellion by rebels opposed to the King's rule. Vallo proposes to make money by selling the weapons on the ship to El Libre, the leader of the rebels. Baron Gruda then proposes to pay Vallo money if he can capture El Libre and bring him to him. Vallo accepts and Baron Gruda and his crew are released, Vallo keeping their ship and releasing Gruda and his men onto his own. While some of the pirates complain that this is not pirate business, they soon come around when they find out the amount of money to be made.

Vallo and his crew sail to Cobra, where Vallo and his lieutenant, Ojo (Nick Cravat), go ashore to meet the rebels. They eventually meet the rebels who are led by Pablo Murphy (Noel Purcell) and Consuelo (Eva Bartok), where they learn that El Libre has been captured and is in a military prison on the island of San Pero. The meeting is interrupted when they are discovered by the King's guards. Consuelo leads Vallo and Ojo to safety, then they all go to the ship. Vallo tells the crew he will rescue El Libre, though Consuelo only believes Vallo is interested in selling weapons to him. She promises him he will get the money. Consuelo also tells Vallo El Libre is her father.

They sail to San Pero. Vallo, dressing in the clothes left on board the ship, pretends to be Baron Gruda and goes to a dinner held in honour of Gruda by the Colonel of the garrison (Frank Pettingell). The Colonel shows Vallo El Libre (Frederick Leister) and another captured rebel, Professor Elihu Prudence (James Hayter). Vallo orders the prisoners to be released into his custody and leaves with them. They all go to the ship which then leaves for Cobra.

Consuelo is grateful to Vallo for rescuing her father but is distraught to find out that Vallo intends to sell her, El Libre, and the Professor to Baron Gruda. Ojo suggests to Vallo that he is in love with Consuelo. Vallo denies this but decides to release them instead of selling them to Gruda. Consuelo begs Vallo to come with them but he refuses. Unknown to Vallo, his first mate, Humble Bellows (Torin Thatcher), overhears them. Bellows plots against Vallo, sending one of the pirates ashore with a message for Gruda.

Vallo lets El Libre and Consuelo go first, but the King's guards are waiting. El Libre is killed and Consuelo is captured. The pirates mutiny and Humble Bellows is elected Captain. Baron Gruda promises Bellows money for dealing with Vallo. Vallo, Ojo, and the Professor are cast adrift in a boat to die. Gruda proposes a toast, giving the pirates a barrel of rum. Unknown to the pirates, the rum is drugged and when they fall asleep, they are captured, transferred back to Vallo's ship, and held prisoners for Gruda to sell them to the King.

Baron Gruda tells Consuelo that she will marry Herman (Eliot Makeham), the Governor of Cobra, or he will kill the people of Cobra. Consuelo agrees, Gruda then announcing the date of the wedding and forcing the people to attend. Meanwhile, Vallo, Ojo, and the Professor manage to escape back to Cobra where they find out about the wedding. Vallo intends to rescue Consuelo but the Professor tells him he needs the help of the people. Vallo agrees, and along with the Professor builds weapons and trains the people how to use them. They make nitroglycerin bombs, tanks, flamethrowers, and a hot air balloon.

On the day of the wedding, the people revolt before the ceremony and overthrow the guards. Baron Gruda manages to escape to his ship, taking Consuelo with him. Vallo and Ojo go after them, taking the hot air balloon. They spot their ship, climb down to it, and release the pirates. They then go after Gruda's ship. When they get close to the ship, Vallo orders the pirates below deck, making Gruda think they are about to launch a broadside. They sneak out the back of the ship, and swim underwater to Gruda's ship. A repentant Humble Bellows stays behind to keep the ship on course, presumably sacrificing himself. Gruda launches a broadside against Vallo's ship, destroying it. Vallo and the pirates then board Gruda's ship and fight with Gruda and his guards. The guards are defeated and Gruda is killed. Vallo and Consuelo embrace.



While the film is set in the Caribbean, it was filmed at Teddington Studios in England and on the island of Ischia in Italy.

The original screenplay by Waldo Salt was rejected by the producers, fearing Salt's so-called Communist ties. Christopher Lee, in his autobiography, claims that director Robert Siodmak changed the original screenplay:

The script started life as serious, nay solemn, but Robert Siodmak, the director, with all the sure touch of real tension behind him in The Killers and The Spiral Staircase, took stock of the material in forty-eight hours and turned it into a comedy. It was like a Boy's Own Paper adventure, except that Eva Bartok was in it.
— Christopher Lee, Tall, Dark and Gruesome[4]


Burt Lancaster and his old partner Nick Cravat made nine films together, the most popular being The Crimson Pirate and The Flame and the Arrow (1950). He kept Cravat on his payroll for life, as trainer as well as co-star. Because Cravat's character in both films is mute, the belief persisted that he really was. Actually, Cravat was given no lines because his thick Brooklyn accent wouldn't have accommodated them.[5] About 10 minutes from the end of Crimson Pirate, Lancaster and Cravat are in a hot-air balloon and about to recapture their pirate ship. The movie shows a wide shot broadside view of the pirate ship as they are approaching. In the background is a modern luxury liner cruise ship -- one that is quite out of place in the eighteenth century.


The Terry Gilliam short film, The Crimson Permanent Assurance, draws its name from this feature. According to The Radio Times "The Disneyland ride 'Pirates of the Caribbean' was inspired by this film."[6]

In the 1970s Lancaster attempted to make a sequel. He hired George MacDonald Fraser and later Jon Cleary to write scripts but no film resulted.[7]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Kate Buford, Burt Lancaster: An American Life, Da Capo 2000 p 117
  3. ^ 'Top Box-Office Hits of 1952', Variety, January 7, 1953
  4. ^ Lee, Christopher, Tall, Dark and Gruesome, Victor Gollancz, 1997, ISBN 0-575-06497-8
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ George MacDonald Fraser, The Light's On at Signpost, HarperCollins 2002 p160-175

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