Anne of the Indies (1951) Directed by Jacques Tourneur. Jean Peters, Louis Jourdan, Debra Paget, Thomas Gomez (81 minutes)
Captain Anne Providence, pirate scourge of the Caribbean, lets down her guard to fall in love with a French captive. Disobeying the warnings of her adoptive father, Blackbeard, Anne’s judgement falters and her bloodthirsty inclinations wither under the pressure of patriarchal expectations, even if she is a buccaneer queen.
Why have I never heard of this movie? I discovered it through the reading of Postmodern Pirates: Tracing the Development of the Pirate Motif with Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean by Susanna Zhanial, in which this film, and Against All Flags are noted as the primary precursors for Geena Davis’ Cutthroat Island. Cinematic Anne is a total badass, we meet her as she makes her captives walk the plank to their deaths! Piracy is the family business; she and her brother were raised by Blackbeard and have followed in his footsteps. When her brother is hung by the British for piracy, Anne takes particular pleasure in destroying their maritime trade.
Anne of the Indies was very loosely based on a real-life pirate, Anne Bonney. She is one of the few female pirates with a relatively extensive historical footprint, being mentioned first in Captain Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates, published in 1724. Anne was the bastard daughter of an Irish attorney and his maid. Cut off from his profession, the three of them shipped out to present day South Carolina, where he established a plantation. When his daughter married James Bonny, a disreputable sailor, over his objections, she was disowned. James fancied himself a pirate hunter, and left his young wife in port, where she met Calico Jack Rackham, a successful pirate known for his flashy attire. They fell in love and set off pirating together. Anne became fond of a crew member, Mark Read, who was discovered to be Mary Read, another woman with a fondness for the pirate’s life. Captain Johnson in his book reports that “the women were both very profligate, cursing and swearing much, and very ready and willing to do any Thing on Board” joining in eagerly with guns and swords (Duncome 125). One of their most dramatic exploits was to steal a British warship right under the nose of the governor of Nassau, Bahamas. They were eventually captured and sent to England for trial. Calico Jack was hanged, and before he died he asked to see Anne one more time. Her last words were that she was “sorry to see him there, but if he had fought like a Man, he need not have been hang’d like a Dog” (Duncome 127). Both Anne and Mary plead their bellies (it was against the law to hang a pregnant woman) and their execution was postponed. Mary died in prison in 1721. What happened to Anne is less certain. Was she given a reprieve? Perhaps, her father intervened and she returned to either Carolina or Ireland. The best story is that her cell door swung open, and Bartholomew Roberts, a flamboyant buccaneer, wearing the fancy clothes and jewels he was known for, asked her to join his pirate crew. Opening his jacket to reveal his sex, s/he states, “We women have to stick together, don’t we?” Black Bart, famous Captain of the Royal Ranger, might very well have been a woman. (Duncome 129). But, in fact, Anne disappears from the historical record. Who is going to make this movie???
The “real” Anne Bonney from a Dutch edition of Defoe’s General History of the Pyrates, and the fictional, from Fraser (p 101)
Anne of the Indies was based on a Saturday Evening Post magazine story by Herbert Ravenel Sass. Independent producer Walter Wanger bought the rights, but then sold them to 20th Century Fox. The early 1950s was the twilight of the mainstream studio genre movie (although, in my opinion, it flamed out in a burst of glory) critic Andrew Sarris describes it as a “misguided” project “made in the last hectic days before Cinemascope” (Fujiwara 189). Patricia Neal, Valentina Cortese, Susan Hayward and Linda Darnell were all tested for the lead role, and the script was rewritten several times. At one story conference with director Jacques Tourneur, Producer George Jessel, studio head Darryl Zanuck and writer Philip Dunne they discussed how to delay revealing that their lead pirate was a woman. Tourneur brought his aesthetics to bear on a film outside his usual range, that of the moody horror tale and film noir. “Tourneur’s main contribution to the adventure genre: to twist the genre’s surfaces in order to show their other side, which faces desolation” (Fujiwara 197).
Anne is played by Jean Peters. Unlike other female pirates, and particularly unlike Spitfire Stevens, played by Maureen O’Hara in Against All Flags, she is totally deglamorized. No push-up bra, no low necklines. When the doctor (Herbert Marshall) treats a wound, her shirt is modestly pulled back without being sexually revealing. She’s really not wearing any make-up, which is the most remarkable. No red lipstick! And, her eyebrows are unplucked! Her shoulder-length hair style is tousled curls, not sprayed, not set. Although you can tell she has a woman’s figure, her clothes are loose, and don’t differ that much from the male sailors. Her crew is loyal. There is no muttering about having to take orders “from a wench.”
Jean Peters, deglamourized.
When she meets Blackbeard (Tomas Gomez) in Port Royal, Jamaica, the tavern is full or riotous action. Black and Asian women mingle among the men. There is a man who appears to wrestle an actual bear cub! It’s a colorful and engaging scene courtesy of the director Tourneur. He was a master of atmosphere, in horror films like Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie, and in the lively Burt Lancaster swashbuckler, The Flame and the Arrow. His masterpiece is the iconic film noir, Out of the Past.
Eventually, Jean Peters was cast as Anne, and honestly, I didn’t even recognize her as Candy, from Pickup on South Street. She was a former Miss Ohio State, and her career only lasted as long as her 20th Century Fox contract, between 1947-1955. She was one of the many women courted over the years by Howard Hughes, but he actually married her! They divorced in 1971. “She gives a ripsnorting performance in the title role, wielding an expert sword blade, under the watchful eye of Fred Cavens” (Richards 262). Cavens was the master of swordplay, who had trained everyone from Douglas Fairbanks in The Mark of Zorro to Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone in Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood; as well as Yvonne de Carlo in Buccaneer’s Girl and Maureen O’Hara in At Sword’s Point, as well as Peters here. Whoever is responsible for her swagger, whether Tournour or Cavens, deserves our thanks.
Louis Jourdan is best known for his role in the 1958 film version of the musical, Gigi. He was born in Marseilles and began acting in French films right before WW II. He refused to act in Nazi propaganda films, and his family fled to unoccupied France, where, too young for military service, he served in the Resistance. After the war, David O. Selznick scouted him and he appeared in his first American film for Alfred Hitchcock, The Paradine Case. He spent most of his career playing romantic leads in films like Three Coins in the Fountain and The Best of Everything.
Louis Jourdan (the rat!) and Jean Peters
Thomas Gomez, who plays Blackbeard, was the first Latinx actor nominated for an Oscar, for 1948’s Ride the Pink Horse. He made more than 60 films and countless radio, tv and stage shows, was born on Long Island, New York. At 18, he won an oratory prize reciting lines from Falstaff’s role in Shakespeare’s Henry IV. He won a scholarship to drama school, and afterwards joined prestigious theatrical troupes. In 1942, he was signed to a Universal contract. In his first film in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, he played a Nazi spy. He was a character actor often cast as a villain; his memorable film noirs include Phantom Lady, Force of Evil, and perhaps most memorably, Key Largo. He once said that he preferred to play characters with “some rascality, warmth and dimension” (Hannsberry 275).
Gomez as Blackbeard, and Peters
Debra Paget plays Molly LaRochelle, Anne’s romantic rival. She was born in Denver, Colorado, and her stage mother pushed all five of her children to enter show business. Paget was among the last generation of studio contract stars, groomed for fan magazine features and stardom. She signed with 20th Century Fox when she was 14, her most notable roles were in The Ten Commandments and Love Me Tender, opposite Elvis Presley. She left movies in 1964 when she married for the third time, to a Chinese oil executive. She became a born again Christian who still occasionally appears on the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
I have several fan magazine articles on Debra Paget from a movie star scrapbook of the early 1950s. Press agents loved fabricating unusal hobbies for their clients, like painting porcelain figurines.
Always time for cheesecake, even in the family home.
There is a lot to unpack in the 81 minutes of Anne of the Indies, and some spoilers follow. The gender politics are convoluted, and frankly, exhausting. Moviediva, Jr., and I agreed that the twists and turns of the plot were unpredictable. There is a lot of discussion about “acting like a man” and “acting like a woman” but the characters in this film cannot be easily boxed in. For the first half of the film, Anne is a standard pirate, ruthless, brave, canny. When she spares her captive, Pierre, from walking the plank, the fate of his fellow captives, her softness, and attraction to him presages her downfall. When she allows him to share in her victory by choosing an article from the seized treasure, Anne chooses a sword, and he chooses a dress (for whom, we don’t yet know) switching gender signifiers.
Whoever has the golden dress, has the upper hand.
Although the scene where Anne tries on the golden gown (gold a usual feature of pirate booty) to attract the attention of Pierre, the scene contains the usual condescension of instructing her on how a man demands a submissive femininity, and you really sense Anne’s confusion about her sudden sexual desire. Louis Jourdan, in talent and appearance, is a cut above the usual B picture leading man, and in spite of his suave demeanor indicates he is not entirely trustworthy. Nevertheless, it’s utterly shocking when it turns out that Pierre is not the hero of the film, as the contemporary reviews would have it, but the villain! He betrays Anne, only pretending to love her. He’s already married, to prissy Debra Paget, and their couple’s self-righteousness about his justification for everything he does is infuriating. She demands to know if Anne even considers herself a woman, if she plays a man’s game by a man’s rules. When Anne piratically strands the noble married couple on Dead Man’s Cay, without any provisions, everyone is shocked. She’s a woman, a pirate might do that, but not a woman! She agonizes over her decision, since her one friend on board, the alcoholic ship’s doctor played by Herbert Marshall, reproaches her for her lack of female sympathy. Zhanial says that Anne’s downfall is that she is unable to integrate the male and female halves of her personality. Balderdash! Pierre is a terrible person! An homme fatale! Her misplaced loyalty to him brings her destruction.
Laura Sook Duncome in her excellent book Pirate Women, bemoans the fact that in spite of all the colorful female pirate characters from around the globe, there have been so few movies with female pirates. She does love Anne of the Indies, despite its flaws. She particularly relishes Anne’s revenge against Pierre and his simpering wife. “There’s something delicious about watching a woman become so completely unhinged on-screen. After watching a million wilting, retiring women acquiescing to men’s demands, it’s electric to watch a woman call the shots, especially in such a heartless way. To wish her success would be cruel, but it’s hard to deny that watching her scheme is a treat…Is it disappointing to watch a badass pirate die for the love of a man who will never love her back? Yes. But, Anne is no fading flower Camille. She doesn’t die for love in a cloud of perfume and dainty handkerchiefs, she dies in a blaze of gunfire. It’s refreshing to watch a nuanced portrayal of a woman battling ultimately between what is ultimately her love of career, versus her love of a man. Despite being made in 1951, the themes of the film still resonate today” (Duncome 215).
“Anne of the Indies is a film that only appears to be a pirate movie with a female star. It is actually a movie that is about challenging the traditional male and female roles we see on screen. Every plot turn is connected in some way to gender, and the movie refers constantly to the conventions of the woman’s film, set inside a male genre, the pirate film…Anne of the Indies is tough, but she is a woman, so she ends up a victim of love, sacrifice and fashion” (Basinger 480).
“Anne of the Indies foregrounds the novelty of a female pirate, but never succumbs to the rituals of humiliation and pacification so often visited upon successful career women in Hollywood films of the 1940s and ’50s. Much of the credit goes to Peters for her spunky performance and to genre man of all trades Jacques Tourneur, who delivers a Technicolor swashbuckler bathed in scorching primaries” (Chicago Film Society)
Postmodern Pirates: Tracing the Development of the Pirate Motif with Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean by Susanna Zhanial, Swordsmen of the Screen: From Douglas Fairbanks to Michael York by Jeffrey Richards, The Romance of Adventure: The Genre of Historical Adventure Movies by Brian Taves, A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women 1930-1960 by Jeanine Basinger, The Cinema of Nightfall: Jacques Tourneur by Chris Fujiwara, Pirate Women: The Princesses, Prostitutes and Privateers Who Ruled the Seven Seas by Laura Sook Duncome, The Hollywood History of the World by George MacDonald Frasier https://www.chicagofilmsociety.org/2017/06/ (This link is broken).