The ABC's of Film Noir
The ABC's of Film Noir

The Buccaneer (1938) Classic Movie Review 67

The Buccaneer (1938)

The Buccaneer (1938)

One ring is a gentleman, two rings is a vane and foolish man

This movie is The Buccaneer (1938), directed by Cecil B. DeMille.


I will go over the actors we have seen before first.

Anthony Quinn played the role of Beluche, one of Lafitte’s go to pirates. Quinn was first seen in Episode 31 – Warlock (1959).

Beulah Bondi played the role of Aunt Charlotte. Bondi was covered in Episode 53 – It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

Evelyn Keyes had a very small role as Madeleine. This movie was Keyes first film. Keyes was introduced in Episode 38 – 99 River Street.

Paul Fix had an even smaller role as a dying pirate. Fix was covered in Episode 15 – The Undefeated (1969).

Fredric March was cast in the role of pirate Jean Lafitte. March was born is Racine, Wisconsin in 1897. March began his early career in bank but in 1920 he was cast as an extra in a New York film. In 1926, he made his first appearance on Broadway.

March began acting and had 87 television and movie credits. In total he had 5 Oscar nominations. This films include The Royal Family of Broadway (1930), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), A Star Is Born (1937), The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), and Death of a Salesman (1951). While I think The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) is one of the greatest movies of all time, and Fredric March was amazing as the combat-hardened sergeant returning to a family he no longer knew, many of his other roles are as great. Just a few of the highlights are Death Takes a Holiday (1934) where March plays Death, I Married a Witch (1942) a light-hearted comedy, The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954) where he plays an admiral concerned for William Holden’s character, Inherit the Wind (1960) where he played an over the top Matthew Harrison Brady during the Scopes Monkey Trial, and of course the amazing Seven Days in May (1964) where he plays the US president during a military coup.

This great actor died in 1975 at the age of 77.

Franciska Gaal played the role of Dutch girl Gretchen. Gaal was born in Budapest, Austria-Hungary in 1904. She had 17 credits including The Buccaneer (1938), Little Mother (1935) and The Girl Downstairs (1938). She died in in 1973.

Franciska Gaal as Gretchen in The Buccaneer (1938)

Franciska Gaal as Gretchen in The Buccaneer (1938)

Akim Tamiroff played one of the most interesting roles as Dominique You, gunner of Napoleon. Tamiroff was born in Russia in 1899. At 19 he was selected to the Moscow Art Theater School. He began doing stage work and by 1920 he permanently moved to the US. He worked on Broadway until the early 1930s. He moved to Hollywood in 1932 and landed his first film role in Okay America! (1932).

Tamiroff specialized in roles of various ethnic backgrounds. He played Pedro in Queen Christina (1933), Gopal the emir in The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), Rudolpho in Naughty Marietta (1935), Carlo Cibo in Anthony Adverse (1936), and General Yang in The General Died at Dawn (1936). For this last film, he was Oscar-nominated. Along with his supporting roles, he began to get B movie leads. These roles include French trapper and scout Dan Duroc of North West Mounted Police (1940), Colonna in The Corsican Brothers (1941), guerrilla Pablo in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943).

During Black Magic (1949) Tamiroff met Orson Welles and was in Confidential Report (1955) and the amazing Touch of Evil (1958), and The Trial (1962). In Touch of Evil (1958) he played bug-eyed Mexican crime boss Uncle Joe Grandi. Tamiroff appeared in over 150 film and television roles. He died in 1972.

Margot Grahame played the role of Annette de Remy. Margot Grahame was born in 1911 in England. She is best known for her roles in The Informer (1935), The Crimson Pirate (1952) and Night Waitress (1936). She died in 1982.

Walter Brennan played Ezra Peavey, Gen. Jackson’s military nursemaid. Brennan was born in 1894. He studied engineering and worked in vaudeville and in odd jobs. In 1917 he joined the Army and served in the 101st Field Artillery Regiment in France during World War I.

Following the war, he went to Guatemala to raise pineapples before drifting back to LA as a real estate speculator. He started acting and performing stunts in 1923. His role in Come and Get It (1936) won him a supporting actor Oscar. In his 244 appearances, he had an amazing range. He had a very successful television show, “The Real McCoys” 1957-1963. He died in 1974 of emphysema.

Hugh Sothern played the relatively small role of General Andrew Jackson. Born in 1881, Sothern is known for The Oklahoma Kid (1939), Old Hickory (1939), a short where he also played Gen. Jackson, and Northwest Passage (1940). He died in 1947.

Douglass Dumbrille played Governor William C.C. Claiborne. Dumbrille was born in 1889 in Canada. Moving to the US he began working stock and moved to Broadway in 1924 where he remained through the early 1930s. His first film was in 1924, but he really began to work in 1931 when he was cast as a series of villains in films such as His Woman (1931), Blondie of the Follies (1932), Laughter in Hell (1933), Baby Face (1933), Lady Killer (1933), Broadway Bill (1934) and, as Mohammed Khan in The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935).

Dumbrille did the same in comedies with all the greats including The Marx Brothers, Abbott, and Costello, and Bob Hope. In the 1950s and 1960s, he worked extensively in television. He died in 1974 from a heart attack.

The dog in the movie Landlubber was played by a canine named Terry. After the movie I looked the dog up and it was in fact a female terrier that played the role of Toto in The Wizard of Oz (1939) and about 9 other films as well.


The young United States went to war with Great Britain in 1812. By August 1814 the Americans were badly beaten at the Battle of Bladensburg, opening the doors of Washington, D.C. Once in the capital the British burned many of the buildings including the White House.

This movie begins with Dolly Madison, the wife of the president, having a dinner party when they receive word that the British are advancing on the town. Dolly saves the portrait of George Washington, which she is something she is sometime credited with doing in reality which clerk Stephen Pleasonton saved the Declaration of Independence and other important documents. At her dinner table in Louisiana state Senator Crawford (Ian Keith). He is in fact a traitor and is in league with the British. When they arrive at the White House he joins them in planning the attack on New Orleans. If the port of New Orleans on the Mississippi fell into British hands, they could stop future American expansion to the west. Crawford says the path to New Orleans is controlled by a privateer named Jean Lafitte.

Down in New Orleans, the American merchant ship The Corinthian is preparing to sail. The Dutch girl Gretchen (Franciska Gaal) is preparing to sail with her dog Landlubber (Terry AKA Toto). Gramby (Fred Kohler) the first mate of Captain Brown is watching the ship load gold. Marie (Louise Campbell) is running away on the ship to get married. Her sister, Annette (Margot Garhame), see her off with a new wedding dress, on to the ship.

The scene changes to the swamp where pirate Jean Lafitte (Fredric March) and his men are selling stolen goods to the New Orleans people. Crawford tells Lafitte that the British want to buy his services. About this time Annette and her Aunt Charlotte (Beulah Bondi) arrive at the illegal sale. As the pair meets the second in command, Dominique You (Akim Tamiroff), Annette runs to Lafitte and they are madly in love.

Governor William C.C. Claiborne (Douglass Dumbrille) arrives with his men and the pirates meld away. Lafitte stands up to the governor. Lafitte says his group has never attacked an American ship.

The scene switches to Captain Brown and Gramby burning The Corinthian. Gramby has Gretchen and her dog hidden on board. Lafitte sees that they have taken an American ship and sails quietly up behind the rouge ship. The dog gives Gretchen’s hiding place away and the Captain orders her to walk the plank. Lafitte picks her and dog up from the sea. He and his crew boards the rouge ship and saves Gretchen. He hangs Captain Brown but only lets Gramby survive because he pulls the rope and Gretchen begs for his life. Beluche (Anthony Quinn) shows up at the hanging.

Lafitte takes Gretchen back to his pirate stronghold Barataria, south of New Orleans. They hide all the goods in town but many of the men want to kill her because she is a witness to the crime. Over time Gretchen endears herself to Lafitte. Later the British come to Barataria and offer him a large sum to help in the coming battle. However his love for Annette makes him choose to fight for America.

Laffite takes the British offer to Governor Claiborne and is warmly received. Claiborne summons the Defense Council while Lafitte goes to visit Annette as a now respectable citizen. Aunt Charlotte tosses Lafitte out of the house. Meanwhile the Defense Council lead by the traitor Crawford vote to attack Barataria.

As the happy pirates wave American flags and sing Yankee Doodle American ship blast their home and defenses to bits. The pirates that are not killed or captured flee into the swamps. Lafitte and Gretchen end up in a pirogues. Lafitte only wants revenge while Gretchen wants Lafitte to marry her and go away. The pirates still want to send her away because she is the only living link to the sinking of The Corinthian.

You and Gramby are among the captives. Gramby joins Crawford in working for the British. Gen. Jackson (Hugh Sothern) and his men enter New Orleans to mixed reviews. Crawford tells Jackson that he will surrender New Orleans. Jackson says he will kill Crawford first. Jackson retires to his office and Lafitte sneaks in with a pistol. Ezra Peavey (Walter Brennan) comes in and gets the drop on Lafitte. Lafitte tells them he has the much needed powder and flints. They work out a deal for the supplies and pirates to fight. The supplies are in Maspero’s store house. This building is still a working restaurant in New Orleans and is a historic place to visit.

As the two men talk, a young French-speaking man comes to tell that the British are at the DeValleré Plantation. Jackson says they will hold at the Rodrigues Canal on Chalmette Plantation. Jackson pardons the pirates if they fight and agrees to give Lafitte one hour head start.

When Lafitte get to the Cabildo jail, Crawford is leading Gramby out of the cell. Lafitte and Crawford fight a sword battle until Crawford is killed. Gramby is also strangled by the men in the cell. The pirates are released and pirates pour out of the swamps heading for the battle lines. This night lit scene goes on for a long time with patriotic songs and heroic stances. Gretchen dresses as a powder monkey, a boy employed on a warship to carry powder to the cannons, and heads to the battle.

Jackson is forming the line a Chalmette for the Battle of New Orleans. The pirates come out of the swamp with the promised supplies and lots of fighting men. The British open the battle by firing Congreve rockets. It should not be a surprise that rockets were used in the War of 1812, because it’s in the National Anthem. You can see where the cannon fire is coming from and fires destroying the battery.

One thing they got right was that the American line was formed from cotton bales which absorbed fire while the British line was made of sugar barrels resulting in a bad ant problem. The American rifle fire shots down British long before the American’s are in the range of the British muskets.

After winning the battle everyone back in New Orleans is happy. You and Gretchen are waiting at Maspero’s while everyone has a victory ball for Lafitte. Gretchen finds the dress that Marie took on The Corinthian and the pair head to the ball.

Everyone is happy until Annette recognizes the dress. The harbor master also recognizes Gretchen. When the story breaks under examination, Lafitte admits he is responsible. All the local men want to hang Lafitte. Jackson honors the one hour head start that he promised Lafitte.

Lafitte and the pirates head to sea on The Raven with Gretchen as a stowaway. Gretchen pledges her love as the ship heads out.

World-Famous Short Summary – Country girl lands a sailor though luck and circumstances

A few short notes. It is well known that Lafitte did not fight at the Battle of New Orleans although Dominique You, who was Lafitte’s brother was there. Lafitte and crew later established a pirate colony in Texas. It is believed that he died trying to capture a Spanish ship around 1823. The Battle of New Orleans can be visited at the National Park Service unit in Chalmette, Louisiana.

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Beware the moors

The Buccaneer (1938)

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