Friday night with Captain Clegg
And so yesterday night, after ordering a pizza, I sat down and re-watched a movie variously known as Captain Clegg or as Night Creatures, a 1962 Hammer movie featuring Peter Cushing and Oliver Reed. And if Cushing and Reed aren’t reason enough to watch a movie, well, sue me.
But it’s actually better than that, because Captain Clegg was not to be a movie about a guy called Captain Clegg or going under the alias of Parson Blyss – but then Disney got in the way.
Russell Thorndike created the character of Dr Syn in 1915, in a swashbuckling novel called Doctor Syn: A Tale of the Romney Marsh, and a rollicking good yarn it is – and it was followed by a number of sequels, chronicling the exploits of a mild-mannered Oxford scholar that turns to piracy to get revenge of his unfaithful wife, and then becomes a masked figure haunting the smuggler-infested coast of Kent.
Great stuff, excellent to be made in a movie.
And they did make a movie, in 1937 and then again in 1962, this time with Hammer footing the bill.
But there was another Thorndike adaptation in the works, at the time, a Disney production – and to avoid any trouble over the rights (that Dismney claimed to own exclusively), the screenplay was modified, and and Doctor Syn became Parson Blyss, as portrayed by Peter Cushing.
The plot: in the late 18th century, the smugglers in Romney Marsh are doing their things, at the orders of former pirate Captain Clegg, now passing himself off as the parson of Dymchurch, Blyss. The outlaws are in the habit of roaming the misty countryside in full glowing skeleton make-up. When a troop of His Majesty’s sailors arrive in Dymchurch, Blyss starts playing a game of cat and mouse with the law.Meanwhile, the son of the local squire courts the step-daughter of the inn’s landlord…
Considering this is an 82-minutes movie, the screenwriter managed to pack as many elements from the Doctor Syn canon as possible – including the whole subplot about the vengeful mulatto that is going to be Syn/Blyss’ nemesis.
There is this strange thing, about Captain Clegg, that is somewhat carried over from the novels – it is quite obvious to any person in their right mind that this is Clegg/Syn/Blyss’ story… he’s the hero, or the anti-hero, if you will. Just as in a Fantomas or a Arsene Lupin story, we are supposed to root for the criminal, because the forces of the Law appear to be inhuman, merciless and pretty dumb. And yet, probably because of the time, neither the director nor the author of the novels can appear to support or condone the protagonist’s actions.
Indeed, one of the reviewers of the time applauded the “hero” Captain Collier – a fine interpretation by Patrick Allen, but certainly not the film’s hero in any way.
Despite the ghostly smugglers, this is a decidedly non-Horror Hammer movie – it’s a story of pirates and revenge, and Cushing is excellent in shifting from daft to menacing in the beat of an eye. And we get Oliver Reed as the romantic lead, which is a great plus.
I mentioned a few pasts ago that I saw all sorts of swashbuckling movies in my small parish cinema. This was certainly one of those – a good story of pirates and retribution.
Was it fit for kids of about ten? I do not know, but we certainly enjoyed it,and it spiced up our games of cops and robbers.
Certainly not Hammer’s most famous movie, it is nonetheless a nice way to spend a Friday evening, on Valentine’s Day.