You don’t have to be a buccaneer to be a buccaneer’s girl, but Yvonne de Carlo would’ve made an excellent pirate queen and it’s a shame Frederick de Cordova‘s Buccaneer’s Girl couldn’t have made that happen for her. While the cover art isn’t completely off base, it does leave out the part where De Carlo’s Debbie spends a good portion of the film on land, attending a finishing school.
Less a high seas adventure than a Robin Hood story, Debbie has her first run-in with pirates after stowing away on a ship that gets raided by Baptiste (Philip Friend). He’s the pirate everybody’s looking for in New Orleans, but Debbie doesn’t scare easy and — in fact — she’s like the guards at Buckingham Palace when it comes to not showing fear or alarm. Her reactions are so mild it’s hilarious to watch and that’s why Buccaneer’s Girl overcomes its false advertising. The film might not be as swashbuckling as the cover art suggests but, as a showcase for De Carlo’s talents, it really is a boisterous affair.
Starting with De Carlo escaping from the pirates’ clutches (the film doesn’t make a big deal out of this, but she does that all by herself), Debbie eventually lands at a finishing school run by Elsa Lancaster (Bride of Frankenstein). Lancaster’s Madame Brizar isn’t exactly prim and proper, however, and while a few attempts are made to sophisticate Debbie (a la Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady), they’re more comedic than serious.
Debbie bites and kicks a number of people in this movie, and in one scene even breaks a chair over someone’s head, but the funniest moment has to come when she gets into a slap fight with Arlene Villon (Andrea King), her romantic rival and one of the villains of this piece. Villon is an extremely well written character and Verna Felton shines in the spotlight as well. Known for voicing Disney characters like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland (film historian and author, Lee Gambin, talks about this in his commentary track), Felton’s claim to fame in Buccaneer’s Girl has to be the amazing pratfall she takes during Debbie and Arlene’s fight.
De Carlo has three musical numbers in Buccaneer’s Girl. The best are the two she sings at a tavern to some sailors. While her voice is operatic, and feels slightly out of place, it’s her dancing that makes it impossible to look away. In almost every scene she has ballet slippers on and her control over her arms is incredible. The hand motions are hypnotic, and she really knows how to work a room.
As a kid I would’ve lapped up a movie like Buccaneer’s Girl. A female-led pirate movie? What’s not to love, and while Debbie is more of an entertainer than a pirate, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have some pirate in her, as shown when she learns Baptiste’s secret and holds it over his head.
Buccaneer’s Girl is available now on Blu-Ray from Kino Lorber.