37 Views of Laird Cregar

Well, maybe not 37…

Fiona wanted some Technicolor Laird, so we ended up running both THE BLACK SWAN and BLOOD AND SAND. The former, directed by Henry King, is pretty good fun: co-writer Ben Hecht treats it like a gangster movie: the pirate genre gives him license to dispense with moral or sympathetic characters. On first meeting Maureen O’Hara, Tyrone Power forces a kiss on her, gets bitten, punches her unconscious, slings her over one shoulder — then Laird turns up, as Sir Henry Morgan, (“when evil wore a sash,” reads a title card) and he actually throws her away.

It’s all a bit of a rape fantasy, but with a respectable back-and-forth power struggle (O’Hara brains Ty back with a rock) and a conclusion that playfully confirms a relationship based on play, drama, and mutual respect. The filmmakers’ confidence that they can get away with the dicier material is kind of impressive, but of course, it was a different era, the 17th century. They’re really convinced the audience wants to be ravished by Power. He even gets to share a bed with O’Hara, via a complicated bit of censor-circumvention where they have to pretend to be married and their lives depend on it.

Laird’s Morgan is a lovely creation, though George Sanders, unrecognizable in red whiskers and a prosthetic nose, takes some getting used to.

Then there’s —

BLOOD AND SAND, directed by Rouben Mamoulian, is a much more artistic affair, the rich Technicolor starting off surprisingly muted. There’s some weird system in place at Fox where Ray Rennehan, maybe the first DoP to master the medium, gets paired with another, highly regarded cinematographer again and again (I just watched DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, where he works with the great Bert Glennon; here it’s Ernest Palmer. Was it a scheme to get more cameramen trained up in the process?)

Laird plays some kind of matador critic. I guess that must be a thing. Does it pay better than film critic? When I’d seen bits of this on TV, it was always Laird, grinning biggly from the stands while Ty decimates Spain’s bovine populace. But Cregar gets to swirl a cape at one point, too. He moves beautifully — Fiona reports that he once replaced a friend in the chorus and made an effective Chorus Boy of Unusual Size.

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4 Responses to “37 Views of Laird Cregar”

  1. Captain Morgan was a video answer on Jeopardy! this past week and all my brain could come up with was “Who is Laird Cregar?”

  2. Yes, back in the day pirates could get away with a lot.

    Remember “The Black Swan” playing well at UCSC in the 70s. Recall that early in the film Power and Cregar (?) are drinking and chatting after a raid with bound female prisoners writhing at their feet, presumably for casual ravishment later. The normally critical student audience — which bristled at sexism in Bugs Bunny — let it pass, and laughed loud at the pugnacious courtship.

    Errol Flynn’s “Against All Flags” in the 50s had Arabian girls being auctioned off as “brides”, and the family-friendly 60s remake “King’s Pirate” kept that business. Once the incognito princess is saved, the auction continues in both versions.

    And between the two Disneyland introduced “Pirates of the Caribbean”, which included:
    — The famous Buy a Bride auction, where a giggling fat girl on the block is upstaged by a redhead hussy displaying a bit of ankle.
    — A drunken pirate holding a dress and shoe announcing his willingness to go shares on the girl who got away, just as a bare-shouldered girl peeks from a barrel.
    — A tableau of horny pirates chasing pretty girls in circles, the punchline being another fat girl chasing a pirate. Be it noted the ride is devoid of bloodshed, aside from the implications of the pirate skeletons at the outset. This IS a family attraction.

    Over the years and the objections of dedicated Disney fans — think about that for a moment — all the scenes have been altered:
    — The horny pirates became gluttonous pirates, carrying chickens and the like while angry ladies chase them brandishing brooms.
    — The auction is for stolen loot, and the infamous redhead is now a pirate herself. In some parks she’s posed with a musket; in at least one she’s a rival auctioneer pitching rum.
    — Fully-dressed Captain Jack Sparrow is now peeking from the barrel, clearly planning to steal the treasure the drunken pirate is gloating over.

  3. It’s Sanders and Power who have the bound abductees early on, but otherwise… yeah. A fantasy of lawlessness is at the bottom of this genre, as in the western and gangster pic, but while the cowboy film mainly celebrates killing, and gangsters add loot, piracy always seems as much about debauchery as profit, or anyway the violence and theft are merely ways to finance drunken orgies.

    All good clean fun.

  4. Fiona Watson Says:

    Cregar has a marvellous bit of business when he’s busy being Governor Of Jamaica. He’s bored and hot while sitting through a session, so he starts scratching his head, which dislodges his wig. I’ll bet my pirate boots that wasn’t in the script!

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