THE PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (Hammer Films, by way of Twilight Time) 1962. 87 mins. AR: 2.35:1
Supplements: Isolated score. Commentary track featuring Jimmy Sangster,
Directed by John Gilling. Screenplay by John Hunter & John Gilling. From a story by Jimmy Sangster. Executive producer, Michael Carreras. Producer Anthony Nelson Keys. Music by Gary Hughes. Cinematography by Arthur Grant. Production Design by Bernard Robinson. Special Effects by Les Bowie.
With: Kerwin Mathews, Christopher Lee, Glenn Corbett, Oliver Reed, Andrew Keir, Marla Landi.
Though not scored by Hammer heavyweight James Bernard, the filmusic track is densely cued, and the Twilight Time release has the edge over the earlier Columbia Pictures version, not just because it isolates the track, but in the way it is reproduced. Composer Gary Hughes was brought into the Hammer fold for this assignment, and was thereafter used for the company’s costume adventure flicks. His is a rousing, orchestral score, and it is gratifying, not to mention edifying, to listen to it against the visuals with no dialogue or effects.
Christopher Lee is a one-eyed (unless the patch is a fashion statement) French pirate who gets all the clever lines in the screenplay, and delivers them with aplomb. A rung below Lee, performance-wise, are athletic Huguenot Kerwin (deft casting of the 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD star) Mathews, Andrew (soon to be Quatermass) Keir, early-in-his-career Oliver Reed and US cast contribution Glenn Corbett (who trailed just behind Lee in screen power here…until a horse fall hospitalized the actor, taking him out of the running). They essay their jobs seriously, it’s just that Lee…well, sometimes he could treat a role superficially, but here he really rose to the task.
Watching the film again (twice), I recalled that among its many pleasures are the piranha attacks. A wonderful illusion, devised by effects honcho Les Bowie, who later worked with Kubrick on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. See if you can figure how they did it (hint: it involves tiny shreds of aluminum foil).
There is also a commentary track full of Hammer alums. I wish Jimmy Sangster had done tons more of them. I’d love to have heard him expound on his only KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER episode, “Horror in the Heights”, in which a monstrous force is stalking an ethnic neighborhood and killing elderly Jews.