Classic Film Guide

Captain Caution (1940)

Director Richard Wallace co-produced this action adventure seafaring film with Grover Jones (The Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935)), who based his screenplay on the Kenneth Roberts novel. Executive producer Hal Roach was evidently trying to capitalize on Warner Bros. successful Errol Flynn pirate films like The Sea Hawk (1940)), which had been released earlier in the year. Unfortunately, he didn't have the lead nor character actors to rise above its B programmer status, though Elmer Raguse did receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound, Recording (the fifth of his six unrewarded Oscar nominations in that category). The cast includes Victor Mature, Louise Platt, Leo Carrillo, Bruce Cabot, Robert Barrat, Vivienne Osborne, Roscoe Ates who plays a stuttering crewman, and Alan Ladd (among others).

The time period is August, 1812 when war rages between England and the United States, with France involved in the mix. Mature plays Dan Marvin, who'd been rescued as a boy by American Captain Dorman (Barrat) on his ship the Olive Branch. Marvin had therefore grown up with Dorman’s daughter Corunna (Platt). Now that both are of age, they're on the brink of consummating their relationship with an adult romance, but each is a little too feisty and neither is willing to relinquish any 'power' to the other. In fact, Corunna is so strong willed that she dubs Dan "Captain Caution" when he'd rightly surrenders the ship to the British after her father was killed; she vows revenge as a privateer. The Olive Branch had been at sea so long no one aboard even knew that there was a war going on. Three of the prisoners aboard the English ship are Frenchman Lucien Argandeau (Carillo), his wife Victorine (Osborne), and another American Lehrman Slade (Cabot), who had been a prisoner about Argandeau’s ship the Formidable for slave trading before the British had commandeered it.

With help from the ladies, who are given quarters above decks by the British, the prisoners below decks get some small arms (knives and a pistol) which enables them to join the action when an American ship attacks them; the British are overwhelmed and their ship is sunk. The freed Olive Branch is then commanded by Corunna assisted by Slade, who has charmed his way into her confidence. Victorine comforts Dan, who Corunna & Slade has made stay a prisoner. Mrs. Argandeau and her husband Lucien are on the outs because of his affairs with other women. Meanwhile, Dan has 'adopted' the English drummer boy Travers (Clifford Severn) he'd saved during the conflict. Of course, Slade is untrustworthy and, once they make port in France, he crosses the channel back to England where he blackmails another slave trader into capturing the Olive Branch for his own purposes.

Again, Dan and Lucien find themselves imprisoned in the bowels of a British ship. This time, with the help of Newton (Ladd), who ends up killing the corrupt captain, and several others who'd been treated like slaves, 'forced' to operate the ship, they're able to escape, re-attack their captors, and rescue the Olive Branch for (a finally grateful) Corunna. A shirtless Mature was called into action as a gladiator to fight a large brute in order to distract the crew such that the other American prisoners could swim to a nearby ship to escape. Naturally, Corunna no longer thinks her nickname fits Dan, and they embrace before the closing credits.

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