The Crimson Pirate

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The Crimson Pirate
Crimson pirate655.jpg
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 Technicolor tongue-in-check comedy-adventure film, produced by Norman Deming and Harold Hecht, directed by Robert Siodmak, and starring Burt Lancaster, who also co-produced with Deming and Hecht. Co-starring in the film is Nick Cravat, Eva Bartok, Leslie Bradley, Torin Thatcher, and James Hayter.

The Crimson Pirate is set in the Caribbean late in the 18th century, on the fictional islands of Cobra and San Pero.


In the Caribbean, late in the 18th century, Captain Vallo (Burt Lancaster), a pirate known as "The Crimson Pirate", and his crew capture a frigate 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 frigate's weapons 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 the Baron. Vallo accepts, and Baron Gruda and his crew are released, Vallo keeping the frigate and releasing Gruda and his men. While some of the pirates complain that this is not pirate business, they soon come around when they find out the large amount of money to be made.

Vallo and his crew sail to Cobra, where the captain and his lieutenant, Ojo (Nick Cravat), go ashore, eventually meeting up with the rebels, led by Pablo Murphy (Noel Purcell) and Consuelo (Eva Bartok). Vallo and Ojo learn that El Libre has been captured and is in the military prison on the island of San Pero. The meeting is interrupted by the King's guards. Consuelo quickly leads Vallo and Ojo to safety, and they return to the frigate. Vallo informs his crew he will rescue El Libre, though Consuelo only believes Vallo is interested in selling weapons to him. She promises Vallo that he will get the money, and then she informs him that El Libre is actually her father.

They set sail for San Pero. Vallo, dressing in clothing left aboard, impersonates Baron Gruda and goes to a dinner held in Gruda's honor by the Colonel of the garrison (Frank Pettingell). For the disguised Vallo, the Colonel puts on display El Libre (Frederick Leister) and another captured rebel, Professor Elihu Prudence (James Hayter). Vallo orders the prisoners be released into his custody, and he leaves with them, going back to the frigate, which sets sail for Cobra.

Consuelo is grateful to Vallo for rescuing her father, but is distraught to find out that Vallo intends on selling her, El Libre, and the Professor to Baron Gruda. Ojo suggests to Vallo that he is in love with Consuelo, but he denies this, but at the same time releases all three prisoners. Consuelo now begs Vallo to come with them but he refuses. Unknown to Vallo, his first mate, Humble Bellows (Torin Thatcher), overhears this exchange. Bellows now plots against the captain for breaking his word to his crew, sending one of his pirates ashore with a message for Baron Gruda.

Vallo lets El Libre and Consuelo go first, but the King's guards are waiting, and El Libre is killed and Consuelo is captured. The pirates mutiny against Vallo, and Humble Bellows is elected the new Captain. Baron Gruda promises Bellows money for dealing with Vallo. So Vallo, Ojo, and the Professor are cast adrift in a skiff in an outgoing current and left to die. Gruda proposes a toast while presenting the pirates with a barrel of rum. Unknown to the pirates, the rum has been drugged; after consuming the rum and falling deeply asleep, they are captured and transferred back to Vallo's ship, now prisoners for Gruda to sell to the King.

Baron Gruda tells Consuelo that she will now marry Herman (Eliot Makeham), the Governor of Cobra, or he will execute everyone on the island. Consuelo is compelled to accept, and Gruda announces the wedding date while intimidating the populace to attend. In the meantime, Vallo, Ojo, and the very clever Professor manage to escape their dilemma by capsizing their boat, in the process trapping a large quantity of air in an air pocket, and then simply walking along the sea bottom back ashore to Cobra; they quickly find out about the coming wedding. Vallo intends to rescue Consuelo, but the Professor convinces him he first needs to free Cobra's people by gaining their cooperation for a revolt. Vallo agrees, and along with the Professor's advanced knowledge, the people of Cobra help build advanced weapons for the coming insurrection, while secretly being trained in their operation. Nitroglycerin grenades, multiple canon tanks, flamethrowers, rapid-firing rifles on revolving drums, and a large inflatable balloon with gondola are constructed in secret.

On the day of the wedding, the people unleash their advanced arsenal just before the ceremony, over-throwing the armed guards. Baron Gruda manages to escape to his frigate, taking Consuelo with him. Vallo and Ojo go after them in the large balloon. They spot their old ship, slide down the ballon's tie-down ropes to its deck, and release the pirates. They then go after Gruda's frigate. As the pirate ship gets close, Vallo orders the pirates below deck, making Gruda believe they are about to launch a full broadside. Instead, they sneak out through the gun ports, drop into the sea, and swim underwater to Gruda's frigate. A repentant Humble Bellows stays behind to keep the ship on course, sacrificing himself, just as Gruda orders a broadside that destroys Bellows and the ship. Vallo and his pirates then surface, climbing aboard Gruda's frigate; the guards are defeated in the battle that follows, while the Baron is killed. In victory 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 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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