Don Sharp (director)
Network on Air (studio)
31 May 2021 (released)
02 June 2021
This yarn concerning the Spanish privateer ‘Diablo’ doesn’t take place in the high seas but on the Cornish coast where devilish Captain Christopher Lee fools the defenceless villagers by claiming that the English fleet has been defeated by the Spanish Armada - hence they now are obliged to grudgingly lend a helping hand in the reparation of the badly damaged ship. However…
It’s 1588 and the battle between the English fleet and the Spanish Armada is at its fiercest. One Spanish privateer, the ‘Diablo’ – run by ruthless Captain Robeles (Christopher Lee) ends up badly damaged drifting along the Cornish coast and takes air at a tucked-away inlet - in urgent need of repair. As it so happens, a young girl named Jane (Natasha Pyne), an inhabitant of the small local village is spotted rowing along the shallow waters by Robeles and his men, among them Pepe (Hammer staple Michael Ripper looking like an Oompa Loompa with his ridiculous orange-tint facial make-up). Alas, Jane has also spotted the damaged ship and immediately attempts to row back to shore but the clumsy damsel drops one of the boat’s oars and finds herself captured by Robeles’ men in no time. Aboard the Diablo the Captain ‘interrogates’ her and Jane’s attempts of lying to high heaven by claiming the village she comes from is a large one with heavily armed men fail miserable and she is kept on the ship. Aware that the girl was lying and that most of the village men are in fact away at sea fighting the Spanish, Robeles sees his chance to force the unassuming and remaining villagers to help him repair the ship by claiming the English have been defeated and the Spaniards now hold the upper-hand. Sir Basil Smeeton (Ernest Clark) is forced to assemble some male locals to help with the repairs – much to the chagrin of the elderly Tom (Andrew Keir) and his son Harry (John Cairney) who happens to be Jane’s brother and also the fiancé of lavishly dressed young Angela (Suzan Farmer) who in turn is Sir Basil’s daughter. Oh it’s all so complex. Among those who are aghast at Robeles’ dastardly affrontery is his own young naval lieutenant Don Manuel (Barry Warren) who soon sides with Tom and the other village ‘rebels’.
Meanwhile, Jane has escaped from the Diablo and with two of the ship’s pirates close on her heels she manages to hide in a particularly treacherous bog hole which is covered by the branches of giant tree next to the swampy mud. Although she manages to shake off her captors she’s too exhausted to make it out of the bog hole though luckily Harry – who had already sensed that Jane might be in danger – comes to her rescue some time later. Unfortunately the two pirates, knowing only too well the trouble they’d be in if Robeles’ learns of Jane’s escape, refuse to give up the hunt for her and return just as Harry manages to lift his sister to safety. A fight ensues during which the two pirates lose their lives. Harry and Jane hurry back to the village to warn the occupants that Robeles’ and his men are in fact plundering pirates but slimy Sir Basil – worried about this status and position, betrays the rebels – resulting in old Tom dangling dead from a makeshift gallows some hours later. This act of unnecessary cruelty has the opposite effect on the villagers who now demand an eye for an eye, supported by Don Manuel. Alas, Robeles – who always another trick up his sleeve – takes some of the young village women hostage, among them Sir Basil’s daughter Angela and her friend Meg (Annette Whiteley). As Basil voices his protestation, Robeles kills him with his dagger. Now Harry, Manuel and other rebels concoct an elaborate plan to free the hostages and put an end to Robeles’ reign of terror…
THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES, with a script by Hammer’s in-house writer Jimmy Sangster may well lack the swashbuckling shenanigans of the Errol Flynn school of piracy but that isn’t to say this newly restored adventure from 1964 doesn’t have its moments. For one, Christopher Lee exudes his usual authoritarian and hard-as-iron menace whilst other Hammer regulars like Andrew Keir or Duncan Lamont (who here plays the ship’s Bosun) add gravitas. Philip Latham, who two years later would deliver a menacing performance as Count Dracula’s loyal servant Klove in Hammer’s ‘Dracula: Prince of Darkness’ here is one of the village rebels intent on destroying Lee and his devil-ship pirates.
Bonus features of this Blu-ray release includes: Limited edition booklet, trailers, image gallery, new interviews with actors Annette Whiteley and Michael Newport plus the new featurette ‘’The Unlevel-Ship Pirates’.