Crimson Pirate [1952]

Released well after Douglas Fairbanks's and Errol Flynn's heydays, this good-natured Burt Lancaster vehicle is, nevertheless, a superior example of the classic swashbuckler: set in the 16th century, along the Spanish Main, this lusty adventure both expands on and explodes genre conventions. Lancaster, a circus acrobat before turning to movies in the '40s, gives what may be his most physical performance as sword-for-hire Captain Vallo, a.k.a. the Crimson Pirate. Nick Cravat, Lancaster's real-life circus buddy, matches the star leap for leap, somersault for somersault as Vallo's mute sidekick. The fetching Eva Bartok causes Vallo to throw over the Spanish for rebel forces, and a young Christopher Lee demonstrates the swordsmanship that would later make him a natural in Richard Lester's The Three Musketeers. Director Robert Siodmak, known for his claustrophobic noir thrillers (1946's The Killers), handled most of the interiors, while Lancaster coordinated the tongue-in-cheek humor and macho derring-do. The broadly played action scenes, including the climactic 18-minute battle aboard a frigate, wouldn't be improved on for another three decades--by Spielberg's Raiders of the Lost Ark. The big difference: Harrison Ford needed a stunt double, Lancaster didn't. --Glenn Lovell

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