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Seven Seas to Calais (1962)

Taking center stage and looking every inch a movie star is dashing Rod Taylor as Sir Francis Drake in this spirited yet oddly budgeted adventure film from director Rudolph Mate’.

The year is 1577 and by happenstance our second lead, Keith Michell, finds himself with a map that is intended for Taylor’s Sir Francis. In order to get the map to the ship at port that Taylor commands he’ll have to evade the swords of Spanish assassins who have been sent to retrieve the parchment. As Michell nears the ship, Taylor, joins in the swordplay to rescue the young man and take him onboard the vessel.

The map in question holds the key to the treasures of gold that the Spanish have in the new world.

While Taylor’s seeking adventure and Spanish gold, Irene Worth, as Queen Elizabeth holds court in England. Publicly she is condemning Taylor’s action for the benefit of Spain’s representative in the Court. Privately with a sly look about her she’s bankrolling Taylor’s mission to the new world to plunder the Spanish Legion’s gold. So with Taylor off to the new world and not saying anything to his crew about their destination there’s mutiny in the air. They’ve not seen land in two months and both food and water are being rationed.

This leads to Taylor putting down an attempted takeover with an eye catching swordfight that if I’m not mistaken sees the actor doing his own stunts. Shortly thereafter the ship will make land and overtake a Spanish settlement that has the Spaniards making slaves out of the local natives to mine gold. The film will conveniently make Taylor’s Sir Francis their savior but we can only assume he takes the gold the Spaniards have plundered.

A comical interlude is included with Taylor’s men cavorting with the locals along the beachfront. This is where Mr. Michell finds himself comically betrothed to a half dozen native girls and while Taylor and his ship are free to leave, the native Chief claims that Michell will be staying behind. Of course he’ll get away but with barely a stitch of clothing. The native girls won’t sit well with Michell’s sweetheart who’s been left to pine in the court of England played by the stunningly beautiful Edy Vessel. In my eyes at least. She reminded me of screen beauty Kim Novak.

Back to England and the Court of Intrigue. The Queen will again play down the exploits of Taylor while Michell will reunite with his Kim Novak lookalike. Just as she’s being used as a pawn in an assassination attempt against the Queen. Still to come are more swordfights, Taylor verbally sparring with his Queen and the always popular model ships setting to “sea” in a fiery battle in the studio’s water tanks.

It’s the British vs. the Spaniards and may the best miniature ship remain afloat to claim the victory.

When I mentioned the budget for the film seemed rather odd, I’m referring to the fact that the location shooting with Taylor and company on the beaches and picturesque backdrops of Naples and Salerno are quite beautiful. Makes for a pleasant viewing experience. However when we move to the English Court of the Queen, it’s rather dodgy and stage bound without the splendor of a Warner Brothers picture starring Flynn and de Havilland.

Speaking of the born in Australia, Flynn, he’s the benchmark to which fellow Australian, Taylor, is measured and he doesn’t disappoint. If truth be told, I’d loved to have seen him score a big budgeted pirate film around this time with either a much younger Mate’ directing or another name director in his prime. How about Jack Cardiff who was not only one of the great cinematographers but also directed Taylor in a pair of 1965 releases, Young Cassidy and The Liquidator as well as 1968’s Dark of the Sun.

If only we could have had Taylor grow a real Van Dyke beard as opposed to the all too obvious glued on version he wore here for his Seven Seas adventure.

Taylor had been appearing in films since the mid fifties and once the new decade hit he was to become a well known leading man commencing with the 1960 favorite, The Time Machine. Tough on screen in many a role he could still play it light opposite Doris Day when called upon and for trivia hounds he’d make his final appearance on camera in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds as Winston Churchill. We film fans would say farewell to the actor at his passing in 2015.

Mate’ had been directing films since 1947 and was capable of working in any genre. Among his list of credits you’ll find Noirs (D.O.A. and The Dark Past), westerns (Branded and The Violent Men), sci-fi (When Worlds Collide), Tony Curtis costumers (The Prince Who Was a Thief and The Black Shield of Falworth) and even episodes of The Loretta Young Show. Just prior to Seven Seas he directed the popular The 300 Spartans. The director would pass away in 1964.

Seven Seas might not be all that memorable with selective dubbing to boot but it can fill the void quite nicely on a quiet afternoon or evening when nothing else is scheduled. The film is available on DVD via the made on demand arm at the Warner Archives and I believe plays TCM on occasion.

For Rod Taylor fans, it really is a charismatic performance and not to be missed.

7 Comments »

  1. Odd to see Taylor with that wardrobe and beard, but it sounds like it works! Funny how there were so many of these swashbuckling, seafaring films released in the 1940s and 1950s, but not any at all now; I guess it’s not what audiences want nowadays. And another film directed by Mate that I really like is the noir crime thriller Union Station…worth a look if you’ve never seen it.

    • Yes Union Station a first rate Noir and the swashbuckler another lost genre. Not counting Depp’s Pirate flicks though the original had it’s heart in the right place. And I still like Cutthroat Island. Critics be damned.

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