Pirates from Books to Film
In 1904, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan was performed on stage in London. It has enchanted children ever since. It is part fairy tale and part adventure story, presenting its pirates as foolish and incompetent caricatures.
In children’s literature of the 1800’s and early 1900’s, pirates were popular subject matter. A new breed of hero was created: the smart, young, Anglo-Saxon Protestant who does battle with pirates. From this came the swashbuckling heroes of the silver screen.
Peter Pan and the Lost Boys take on Captain Hook and his crew.
Captain Hook battles Peter Pan.
Illustration by Alice B. Woodward (1907)
In 1920, the silent movie Treasure Island was released. Later came Captain Blood starring Errol Flynn and The Black Pirate starring Douglas Fairbanks. These were the first ‘swashbucklers,’ featuring sea fights and gentlemen pirates.
In the 1930’s and 40’s, there were many swashbucklers adorning the silver screen. The remake of Captain Blood (1935), The Sea Hawk (1940) and The Black Swan (1942) are classics of the genre. They made screen idols of such actors as Errol Flynn and Tyrone power. In later years, pirate movies tended to be comedies, making fun of the romantic image of piracy.
Hollywood tended to adapt the real pirate characters from history and incorporated may inaccuracies along the way. Many of the early pirate movies were based on the boys’ adventure tales written by Rafael Sabatini (1875-1950). It is interesting to note that Hollywood has not yet filmed a serious and historically accurate pirate story. Perhaps it will.