“I have my own style,” says Errol Flynn during a climactic fight with rapiers in The Master of Ballantrae. It’s a lightly self-conscious moment reminding us that in 1953, this was already a nostalgic project for the aging matinee idol. Audiences might have left the theatre sighing “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”
With radical modification and Hollywood-ization, Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale finds an impetuous, dallying, none too bright heir to Scotland’s Ballantrae estate going off to support Bonnie Prince Charlie’s ill-fated 1745 attempt to dethrone King George and return England from the Tudor family to the Stuarts. This event happens in two minutes of screen time, and then it’s all about a series of circumstances that land him among pirates in Tortuga. This festival of double-crosses amid vivid characters who spout rich jargon feels like an influence on Pirates of the Caribbean, which is a postmodern construction where this movie was merely a throwback.