Monday, 14 September 2015

Movie Review: Captain Lightfoot (1955)


A historical drama and romance set in Ireland, Captain Lightfoot fills the eye with vibrant on-location colours, but is otherwise sadly lacking in meaningful content and execution.

Ireland, early in the 19th century. The population is restless but poor, plotting uncoordinated rebellions against the English rulers. At a small village, Michael Martin (Rock Hudson) is an ambitious young man and occasionally a highway bandit, eager to help his local chapter of "the society", the secret group through which funds are raised for revolution. When Michael steals money from the wrong land baron he becomes a wanted man, and attempts an escape to Dublin to disappear into the big city.

Martin connects with John Doherty (Jeff Morrow), better known as Captain Thunderbolt, the legendary leader of the Irish revolutionaries. Doherty sees something in the young man and names Martin his second in command with the title of Captain Lightfoot. Martin also meets and falls in love with John's daughter Aga (Barbara Rush). John runs a swanky illegal gambling den to raise funds for the cause, but with shifting alliances on both sides and personal scores to settle, it's difficult to tell friend from foe. Soon both John and Martin are in even more trouble with the English authorities.

Directed by Douglas Sirk and clocking in at 92 minutes, Captain Lightfoot is a quick romp through Irish history, and does not register neither as a useful chronicle nor as a compelling drama. Filmed on location in Ireland, the bright colours, lavish costumes and beautiful scenery do make an impression, but the script by W.R. Burnett is forgettable in the extreme, and the film quickly degenerates into a blur of costumes and men running around back and forth across the Irish country side.

There is something borderline buffoonish about the whole exercise, and both the Irish revolutionaries and English rulers appear inadvertently ready to play satirical caricatures of themselves. But the film, for better or worse, never slips into farce. Instead the mediocre cast fulfill their roles with a straight face, and there is simply not enough context, character development, or true emotion to provide genuine narrative anchor points.

The politics are barely explained and the perspectives of both sides are given short thrift. The supposedly smart Doherty trusts the inexperienced Martin all too quickly, the revolutionaries seem to have no plan except to collect money through open robbery, drink, and loudly argue at supposedly secret meetings. Overall, too many characters from surly English military men to a random assortment of Irish villagers compete for not enough plot, and a double-cross drama enters the film too late. There is a lot more dancing than gambling going on at the gambling den, presumably because the ladies' lavish gowns are much more cinematic than men at gambling tables.

Rock Hudson seems quite uncertain and hesitant, and given little of substance to work with except a stock rendition of angry young man eager to fight, he is swallowed up by the scenery.

Captain Lightfoot is Lighweight History, blown away by the gentle Irish breeze.






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