|The Master of Ballantrae|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||William Keighley|
Harold Medford (add. dialogue)
The Master of Ballantrae|
by Robert Louis Stevenson
|Music by||William Alwyn|
|Edited by||Jack Harris|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|5 August 1953 (US)|
$2 million (US rentals)|
1,814,822 admissions (France)
The Master of Ballantrae is a 1953 British Technicolor adventure film starring Errol Flynn and Roger Livesey. It is a loose and highly truncated adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel of the same name. In eighteenth century Scotland, two sons of a laird clash over the family estate and a lady.
It was the last film from director William Keighley.
At the Durrisdeer estate in Scotland in 1745, Jamie Durie (Errol Flynn), his younger brother Henry (Anthony Steel) and their father Lord Durrisdeer (Felix Aylmer) receive news of the Jacobite rising. Their retainer, MacKellar (Mervyn Johns), recommends that one brother join the uprising while the other remains loyal to King George II, so that whichever side wins, the family's status and estate will be preserved. Both brothers want to go. Jamie insists on tossing a coin for the privilege and wins, despite the opposition of his fiancée, Lady Alison (Beatrice Campbell).
The rising is crushed at the Battle of Culloden. Evading British soldiers, Jamie falls in with an Irish adventurer, Colonel Francis Burke (Roger Livesey). They return secretly to Durrisdeer to obtain money for passage to France.
When Jamie's commoner mistress, Jessie Brown (Yvonne Furneaux), sees him kissing Lady Alison, she betrays him to the British. Jamie is shot by Major Clarendon and falls into the sea. Henry becomes the heir to the estate on the presumption that Jamie is dead.
Believing his brother betrayed him, a wounded Jamie and Burke take ship with smugglers to the West Indies, where they are betrayed by their captain McCauley and captured by pirates led by French dandy Captain Arnaud (Jacques Berthier).
Jamie goes into partnership with Arnaud. When they reach the port of Tortugas Bay, they see a rich Spanish galleon captured by fellow buccaneer Captain Mendoza (Charles Goldner). Arnaud agrees to Jamie's proposal that they steal the ship. However, once they have seized the galleon, Arnaud turns on Jamie. Jamie kills Arnaud in a sword duel and takes command. They sail for Scotland.
Jamie returns to the family estate, rich with pirate treasure, to find a celebration in progress for Henry's betrothal to Alison. Unable to contain himself, Jamie confronts his brother, despite the presence of British officers. A fight breaks out, in which Henry tries to aid Jamie. The unequal fight ends with Jamie and Burke condemned to death.
Jessie helps them escape, at the cost of her own life. Henry also assists them. Jamie tells his brother of the location of some treasure which Henry can then use to pay off Jamie's gambling debts. Alison elects to go with Jamie to an uncertain future and she, Burke and Jamie all ride off together.
Warner Bros purchased the screen rights to the novel in 1950. The novel was in the public domain in the US but still in copyright in certain European countries. The purchase was made with funds "frozen" by the British government i.e. money earned by Warners in Britain which they could not take out of the country.
Warner Bros announced on 7 September 1950 that they would make the film, with shooting to take place in England. (Warners had just made another sea-faring tale, Captain Horatio Hornblower, in England.) The following year it was announced that Joe Gottesman would be producer and Herb Meadow was doing the adaptation.
The film was shot in Great Britain in 1952, with location work in Cornwall and the Scottish Highlands with the pirate sequences done in Palermo in Sicily. Shooting took place six days a week.
Fencing champion Sgt Robert Anderson from the (British) Royal marines went on leave to participate in the film.
Filming went very smoothly, in contrast to many Errol Flynn movies around this time. The star was co-operative and well behaved and enjoyed the experience.
"Playing in that period piece made me realise how that must have been the heyday of great lovers," Flynn said. "In the 18th century men treated their women either angels or scullery maids. You were either gallantly or roughly romantic, and the women expected it one way or the other."