Wednesday, April 4, 2012
YEAR 1951: ANNE OF THE INDIES
This film is as good a starting-place as any for addressing the relative upsurge in Femmes Formidables films in the decade of the 1950s.
As I've noted in earlier posts, film in the 1930s and 1940s was impoverished in some respects. In the genre of horror-movies, the only feminine monsters I've chronicled thus far are those from DRACULA'S DAUGHTER and CAT PEOPLE. I do plan a post later on Universal's "Ape Woman" films, but these aren't especially noteworthy. There are also some good female-centered adventure-films I've been obliged to pass over, but these were no more numerous in their day than the female-horror films.
What I believe happened is that after 1948's antitrust rulings from the Supreme Court made it impossible for the big Hollywood studios to "block book" their offerings to US theaters, subject matter in 1950s films began to become more daring, to take more chances than had been the case earlier. Thus, though ANNE OF THE INDIES was a studio film, produced by 20th-Century Fox, it participates in some of this quest to find bold new subject matter. This would be illustrated to an even greater extent by the comparative proliferation of "female monsters" in the burgeoning SF-horror genres that became so prevalent in the decade of the 1950s.
The pirate genre had been around in films since the silent era, but ANNE OF THE INDIES-- interestingly enough, directed by the man who had helmed 1942's CAT PEOPLE-- seems the first US sound-film to focus on a female pirate. The nucleus of the character seems to have been the historical lady-pirate Anne Bonney, but the story has nothing to do with the historical figure. Rather, "Anne Providence" is one of a long line of heroines who have been "raised like a boy" by a male perceptor. In this case, Anne has been raised by the redoubtable Blackbeard himself, and so has taken after his criminal ways.
As played by Jean Peters, Anne is a tragic figure despite her criminality. A former pirate named Larochelle (Louis Jourdan) has agreed to spy on the movements of other pirates to get back his ship and to return to his wife (Debra Paget). While he's spying on Anne's ship, Anne gradually falls in love with Larochelle, who can't very well reveal his married status. Anne does find out, and in a standout scene she taunts the hero by putting his wife up for sale at a slave auction.
Only a few times in the film is Anne seen fighting with a sword, but though she's clearly skilled, the film doesn't dwell on her martial ability very heavily. Still, despite the predictable "downer" ending, ANNE offers an excellent view of a type of film that probably would never have got off the ground in the previous decade.