Anne of the Indies - 1951


Anne of the Indies- Released October 18, 1951. Directed by Jacques Tourneur

Daughters at war with their fathers is a theme of a number of movies in the 1950s, such as Barbara Stanwyck's turn as a rebellious daughter to Walter Huston in The Furies (1950). Along these same lines is Jean Peters as a buccaneer captain outfighting the men around her in what looks like an all-man business, doing it well and succeeding in a competitive field (there are plenty of other pirate captains who make appearances in this adventure). But then she meets Frenchman Louise Jourdan (as Peter LaRochelle) and the previously indefatigable pirate queen begins encountering serious problems.

Not that LaRochelle can swing a sword better than her (he can't) but he has an appeal that causes, shall we say, complications for a woman who is used to ruling over all the men around her. Falling in love with LaRochelle also means she has to go against the famous Blackbeard the Pirate (Thomas Gomez), who is as close to a father she has. A large part of the story from the scriptors* for Anne of the Indies is showing how the father-daughter relationship between ruthless Blackbeard and equally ruthless Anne breaks down but continues to retain a weird affection and regard between the two. As it is, Blackbeard lodges a number of objections about LaRochelle, and in general he turns out to be quite right,** though LaRochelle is our above the title male hero. In practice, though, Jourdan is often in the shadow compared to the rambunctious Jean Peters and Thomas Gomez who wrestle like a parent with a willful child who is suddenly realizing they're old enough to do whatever they want, and does it.

Director Jacques Tourneur uses luxurious technicolor in Anne of the Indies to decorate the story with gorgeous visuals (Harry Jackson is director of photography) and the costuming is first rate (Edward Stevenson) in the style of the best Hollywood pirate movies, and between Jean Peters, Debra Paget, and the pirate ships there's a lot of opportunities to color the screen (Jourdan loses his costume a few times, as if the producers decided a fellow this handsome and slender shouldn't be troubled with shirts). Franz Waxman's score is piratey-sounding, though flavored with a strain of the Romance of the Seas, and this is a very appropriate audible counterpart to the cinematography. Tourneur's story-telling and pacing is very good almost to the end and the craftsmanship all around is excellent, which turns out to be a shame because the film can't keep it up all the way to the end credits.

Editing is a problem in Anne of the Indies, and as the tale wears on the story begins to fragment and the special effects (very good for the era, especially the wooden sailing craft blasting away at each other with cannon) start to not exactly match the live-action shots we're viewing. For example, a pirate ship shown at distance as a sinking, ruined, burning wreck (very impressive) actually isn't in that bad of shape when we switch back to the poop deck and our stars are unharmed, still gesticulating and saying their lines. It's too bad, as in places Anne of the Indies rises well above the usual Hollywood pirate drama, but some sort of breakdown in organization of the production (and story) mars the last act of the film, tainted with that classic "we've got to tie this up and end the movie and this is best we could do" feeling.

Still, Jean Peters and Thomas Gomez are fantastic, and there's some real intelligence trying to push its way out from beneath the limits of the genre. Anne of the Indies is both a typical pirate movie, though visually elaborate, and it is also an effort at trying to color outside of the lines by featuring a female ship captain who rules by sword-and-brain power, and then gets tripped up by the complexities of love and a realization of basic human ethics.

*Script credits for Anne of the Indies goes to Philip Dunne, Arthur Caesa, and Cyril Hume from the story by Herbert Ravenel Sass.

** The authority of the British, and by implication in other scenes, the French, in this watery world centered around the Caribbean is portrayed as just another form of piratism. Corruption in legal government isn't buttered up as anything else in Anne of the Indies, and the difference between the pirates and the civilian leadership seems to be rather limited, though our heroine Anne is certainly a lot more honest than anyone else in the story.

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Original page September 2021