Barbary Pirate (1949)




Director:     Lew Landers.

Starring:     Donald Woods (Maj. Tom Blake), Trudy Marshall (Anne Ridgeway), Lenore Aubert (Zoitah), Stefan Schnabel (Yusof, the Bey of Tripoli), Ross Ford (Sam Ridgeway), John Dehner (Murad Reis), Matthew Boulton (Tobias Sharpe), Nelson Leigh (Rindeff).

U.S.A. sends Major Thomas Blake on a secret mission when the Bey of Tripoli starts demanding tribute from American merchant ships



Spoiler Warning:

"Shortly after the United States won its independence, American sailing vessels began to appear on the high seas flying the Stars and Stripes from the mastheads of sturdy merchant ships.  These voyages were long and perilous, beset by storms, uncharted reefs and mast-high waves, but once safely past Gibraltar, these ships faced a still greater danger  -- the swift deadly vessels that flew the flag of the Bey of Tripoli manned by vicious crews who struck mercilessly at ill-protected merchantmen, making pillage and murder the official profession of those who swore allegiance to Yusof."

Washington, D.C., 1800.  Vice-President Thomas Jefferson speaks to President Johan Adams and some military men about the problem of the Barbary Pirates.  He says the United States has paid tribute for long enough.  They must fight Yusof and the Barbary Pirates.  Among the American ships sunk by the Barbary Pirates were:  the Catherine, the Brady, the Concord, the Boston Queen and the Patrick Henry.  Another man, Tobias Sharpe, says that the Barbary Pirates should be considered as a necessary hazard to shipping like reefs and storms.  It seems for the moment that we are helpless.  Jefferson says he will not concede that the United States is helpless. 

Tripoli, northwest Libya not far east of the country of Tunisia.  US ambassador to Libya, Mr. Cathcart, bursts into a meeting of Yusof, the Bey of Tripoli, and his Admiral, Murad Reis. He says on behalf of the US, he protests the unwarranted attack on the brig Catherine.  The ship was sunk and the captain and crew were imprisoned.  Yusof pretends he is angry at his Admiral and scolds him for sinking the ship of their American friends. Yusof plays along saying he did not know it was American.  It was very foggy on that day.  Yusof says to tell the President of the United State that Yusof is very sorry for the sinking of the American vessel.  Cathcart says that the United States demands the immediate release of the Captain and crew of the Catherine.  Captain Witherspoon is brought into the room.  He is released of his chains.  But when the Captain starts to leave, Yusof says to stop that man for he is trying to escape.  Yusof now explains that the penalty for trying to escape is death.  When Cathcart complains to Yusof, the ambassador is also arrested.  He is charged with trying to help the prisoner escape.  He is to be placed in chains and thrown into prison.  He says:  "Mr. Cathcart, from now on, it is I who shall make the demands and the President of the United States who will obey them."

Jefferson calls in Major Tom Blake.  He wants Blake to help the United States handle this situation with the Barbary Pirates.  He will travel on the lone ship, the Salem Star.  The Major will use a different name:  Thomas Brighton.  Brighton was a Tory and a traitor.  And it may be helpful if the Major continues that pose.  His orders are to discover how and from whom the Barbary Pirate learns about our ships' sailings.  Tobias Sharpe sees the Major leave the office of Thomas Jefferson.  That gets Sharpe to wondering what was the Major doing with Jefferson.

Brighton shows his ticket and papers to get aboard the Salem Star.   He notices a nice looking couple coming to get on the same ship.  The couple are Anne and Sam Ridgeway, sister and brother. 

On board ship, Brighton speaks with Anne.  Brighton says he's worried about her if she intends to sail with the ship past Gibraltar.  He says it's too dangerous for they may be attacked by the Barbary Pirates.  She says that Sam says the Barbary Pirate is not as bad as people say.  Brighton then says that Sam is an idiot.  Sam comes right up and says thank you to Mr. Brighton.  He tells his sister to excuse herself and come with him. 

At dinner Captain Crawford sits at the head of the table.  Also present for dinner are the Ridgeway siblings, Brighton and another man.  Brighton says it's a real shame that the United States lets their lone ships sail beyond Tripoli.  The Captain says the United States is still very young and it doesn't have enough funds to see to it that every ship is part of a convoy.  Brighton says that the US will never have enough ships.  He says he wishes the USA were still part of Britain.  Britain can protect its ships.  That offends the Captain and he stands up to say he considers that treason.  Brighton starts to leave, but Sam Ridgeway socks him and knocks him down.  Brighton wants to hit him back, but he catches himself.  Now he leaves. 

The ship the Barbary Pirate shows up.  The American captain tells his mate to tell the gunners to prepare for action. 

Yusof with the Admiral yells out for the Americans to:  "Heave-to and prepare to be searched."  The Americans fire a cannon.  The other ship starts firing too.  One of the pirates shoots Captain Crawford.  There is a fight as the pirates come aboard the American ship. 

Brighton comes up on deck and tells the Ridgeways that he did warn them that this might happen.  "Now we'll all be taken prisoner or killed."  The Admiral kills an American.  Sam rushes in to grab the dead man's sword.  He starts sword fighting with the Admiral.  It doesn't take the Admiral long to take Sam out of the fight.  Anne runs over to help her brother. 

After the end of all the fighting, Yusof comes aboard the American vessel.  There is only one American officer left alive.  Yusof tells him to take him to the treasure.  The officer says he knows nothing about a treasure, so Yusof slaps the officer twice across the face.  Brighton speaks up and says he knows where the treasure is.  It is among the personal effects of the late Captain of the ship.  This now really turns Anne off to Brighton.  Sam is still alive, but wounded and he tells Brighton that his sister doesn't want to talk to him. 

Yusof finds the treasure and later meets with Brighton.  The Bey of Tripoli says so Brighton is an American who is not an American.  Brighton says he's a Tory, loyal to his Britannic Majesty.  Yusof tells Brighton that he has no use for "traitors".  Brighton replies that it was Jefferson and his crowd that are the "traitors".  He then goes on to say that he can help Yusof capture more American ships because he knows so much about America's ways and its shipping trade.  He advises Yusof not to catch every American ship.  Out of 20 ships, capture only 15.  This will make each subsequent American Captain think that he will be the lucky one who slips through the clutches of the Barbary Pirate.  Yusof likes what he hears, so he releases Brighton's chains and gives Brighton quarters in his palace. 

The next day one of the women in his harem tries to kill Yusof by throwing a dagger at his back. Brighton shoves the man out of the way saving his life.  Yusof says Brighton saved his life.  Did he see who threw the knife?  Brighton tells him no he did not.  Yusof tells his guards to search the palace and find the assassin.  As a reward for Brighton, Yusof makes him his friend and makes him his personal guard and counselor. 

Brighton follows the woman who threw the knife.  She went through a door and closed it behind her.  Brighton knocks hard on the door.  The door is opened and Brighton comes into what is a tavern.  The man Rindeff who opened the door says that Brighton is making a big mistake.  Brighton says he's not making any mistake, then he is grabbed from behind by a very large man. 

When Brighton wakes up, he sees his guard sleeping near him.  He gets up and grabs the guard's sword.  The two men start fighting and the American knocks the guard over a small table in the room.  Another guard rushes into the room and then another.  Brighton fights them off for awhile, but when the first guard recovers the three men are able to subdue him.  The assassin shows up telling Brighton that he was very foolish to follow her.  He says he saved her life, but she replies that he saved Yusof''s life too.  He must die.  Brighton asks why he must die?  Because the American is now the friend of Yusof and seeks favors from him, while they seek freedom and are his enemies. 

Brighton does some fast talking.  He says that he works against Yusof.  They don't believe that.  He says if he had wanted to capture the group, he would have brought the palace guard with him, but he didn't.  So the woman starts wondering if this could be true.  She asks who he really is?  he says he's Thomas Blake of the United States Army.  The woman's name is Zoitah and she says that she considers Thomas Blake a good risk. 

Thomas Jefferson became President of the United States in 1801.   He calls in Tobias Sharpe and gives him a chance to prove the merits of his argument.  He suggests that Sharpe go to Tripoli immediately where he is to ask the Bey of Tripoli to release all the American prisoners and sign a treaty of friendship with the US.  If the Bey agrees, pay him the tribute.  If he does not, the US will declare war on the Bey.  The President also tells Sharpe that Major Thomas Blake is in Tripoli as a man named Brighton. Contact him for any assistance Sharpe may need. 

The Bey tells Brighton that it's getting expensive to feed and house so many American prisoners.  He wants to kill some of his prisoners, but only those that can bring him no ransom.  He tells in Brighton to find out which Americans have no wealthy relatives so that these prisoners may be killed.  He adds that as an American traitor, this assignment should amuse Brighton.  Brighton asks to speak to the prisoners alone, but Yusof says while he trusts his friends, he only trusts them just so far.  The Admiral will accompany him.

The first person Brighton speaks to is Anne Ridgeway.   She says she won't give him any information, so Brighton says he already knows she comes from a wealthy background.  As he goes past a jail cell an American grabs him calling out the name of Major Blake.  Brighton says the man is mistaken and shoves him farther back into the cell.  The young sailor tells Sam Ridgeway that the man he just saw was Major Blake.  Ridgeway says the man is a Tory coward and traitor and his name is Brighton. 

Brighton reports back to Yusof saying that his suggestion is to let all the prisoners live until the American tribute is paid.  He also says that the prisoner Anne Ridgeway should be well treated because her family is wealthy. 

Mail comes in for Yusof.  One letter comes from Washington, D.C.  It says:  "The Hazard, the Scorpion and the Flint sail on the 12th, 17th and 21st respectively.  They will be unescorted.  Major Thomas Blake, using the name Brighton, has been sent to Tripoli by Jefferson.  Deal with him accordingly."  It is signed by someone using the code name Albatross. 

Yusof now demands that Brighton read the letter out loud.  He is a bit suspicious of Brighton's reading of the letter because it was so brief.  And the suspicion is raised further by Brighton later placing the letter in the sash around his waist. 

Anne Ridgeway is brought up to the Bey's quarters.  Yusof tells her that Brighton says she is worthy of special treatment.  Anne says she doesn't want anything to do with something Brighton says.  Yusof says he agrees with the man.  He now says that Miss Ridgeway will be accorded all the care due anyone of his own household. 

Anne gets a bath.  She criticizes Mr. Brighton to the women of the harem. 

Yusof says to Brighton that he knows Brighton has a soft spot for Miss Ridgeway.  So he is willing to let the woman chose whether she wants Brighton or him.  Anne returns looking very good in a harem costume.  Yusof says she can choose to serve Brighton or him.  Anne says she would rather stay in the prison cell than serve Brighton.  Brighton decides to bow out, but now Yusof says he was playing a little joke on Brighton.  He knows that Brighton likes the woman and he wants him to take her into his service. 

The couple go into Brighton's quarters.  He takes off his vest and boots and then says goodnight to Anne.  Brighton gets up during the night to swipe the letter from Albatross.  Yusef hears the door open and close to his quarters.  He gets up to check on what's going on.  Brighton sticks the letter into his right boot.  The Bey finds Brighton in his outer quarters and wants to know what he is up to.  Brighton says he couldn't sleep, so he decided to organize Yusof's files.  Yusof says no one goes through his files without his permission.  So he broke a law, but, since his motives were good, he will overlook it this time.  Yusof then asks if Brighton has taken anything from his files?  No.  So Brighton won't mind if Yusof searches him?  Yusof searches through the man's pockets, but finds nothing of his. 

Brighton shows the letter to Zoitah and asks her who is this fellow Albatross?  Zoitah says it's obviously a code name.  She suggests that the code maybe found in the Bey's alcove where he keeps his important papers.  Brighton says he will risk going into the alcove and searching for a code sheet.  Zoitah says she will go with him to serve as a lookout.  They plan the espionage for tonight. 

The pair finds a small golden chest hidden away in a secret compartment.  Inside is a small book.  They look through it and find out that the one who is Albatross is Tobias Sharpe.  Zoitah burns her finger on the candle she holds to read the books.  She gives out with a loud "Owh!"  This wakes the Bey and the couple agree they have to hide. Zoitah hides behind the drapes.  Brighton grabs a letter opener and stabs himself in the left arm, ripping the shirt sleeve.  When Yusof asks him what's he doing here, Brighton says he heard someone in the room.  He came in to check on the man and was jumped and knifed.  Yusof asks the guards if they saw anything?  No.  Yusof says the guards were asleep, as usual. 

Yusof says he wonders what could be of such value in this room to make someone invade his quarters?  He looks around and sees some movement in the drapes.  He says the intruder has already been found!  He throws back the drapes and grabs Zoitah.  Yusof asks her who is her confederate?  Zoitah just says to Brighton that first he betrayed his country, then the Bey and now me.  Brighton was her partner in this, and he wants to kill the Bey.  Yusof now yells for the guards to take Zoitah to a prison cell.  He explains to Brighton that if Zoitah was really his friend, she would have protected him.  Instead, she chose to put the blame on Brighton.  [It seems that the Bey is always looking for an excuse to get Brighton out of trouble.]

Rindeff stops Brighton on the street.  Brighton tells him that he wants to get this message to the American Consul in Tunis.  He says he hopes it's enough to hang the American Tobias Sharpe. 

Yusof is torturing Zoitah to get her to tell him who are her contacts.  They stick her hands in acid, which burns her hands.  Brighton is forced to watch the torture.  Thank goodness, Zoitah passes out. 

Anne comes into Brighton's room and tells him that his servant is here.  Brighton was lost in thought over poor Zoitah and he tells Anne:  "Please, please, forget all that nonsense."  Now Anne says she doesn't understand Brighton.  What does he want?  And why is he a traitor  -- a Tory?  At first, he was so helpful and pleasant.  Brighton says he's always been the same man.  It's just that he can't tell her for fear of getting her involved.

The Admiral interrupts the conversation.  He says the Bey wants Brighton right now.  Yusof tells Brighton that he has caught a spy.  In fact, he has caught two spies.  He opens the drapes and there is Rindeff with two huge guards. 

Anne comes to Yusof's quarters to check on Brighton.  Yusof tells her that Brighton is the spy Major Thomas Blake.  He says that the Americans sent Blake here.  "We both have been cruelly deceived."  The spy now awaits his execution. 

Blake is now in the cell with the sailor who knows him and Sam Ridgeway.  Ridgeway starts to apologize to Blake, but Blake says he knows.  From the jail window, the sailor spots an American ship.  Blake thinks the ship is the Constitution.  

Commander Preble of the American ship tells Tobias that he can go to the Bey's palace at 8 am, but must be back before 10 am, because that's when the ship will open up on the palace. 

Anne tries to bargain with Yusof to save Tom.  She says she loves Tom, but if the Bey will let him live, she will forget that love and stay with the Bey.  Yusof refuses to take that deal.  The man's doom is sealed. 

The Admiral comes in to say that Tobias Sharpe is here with the American tribute.  Yusof says he will delay Tom's execution and see Tobias Sharpe now.

Yusof laughs at the American demands.  He says the Americans are cowards.  They don't want to fight.  They will pay the tribute.  Sharpe warns the Bey that the American warship will start firing at 10.  That is, unless the treaty is signed.  Yusof laughs again saying he will be safe in his dungeons, and the American prisoners will be in the Bey's office here.  Sharpe laughs too.  He says he would like to join Yusof in the dungeons. 

Anne brings a note to a guard and tells him that Thomas Blake is to be executed immediately.  The jailor opens the door and Anne sticks a knife to his mid-section.  The guard takes the knife from her, but the three Americans grab the guard and knock him out.  She tells the men that a man named Sharpe, an American, is meeting with the Bey now. 

The Admiral comes down to the dungeon.  He asks Miss Ridgeway what she is doing here?  Two guards take her away to His Majesty. The Admiral then says all the American prisoners are to be released.  The prisoners are released.  The Admiral tells his guards to take the Americans to the fortress.  Blake is very worried about this last order.  Blake and his two cellmates are the last in line.  Blake fakes illness and everyone stops.  Then the Americans overpower the guards.  Another guards sees them and warns the others. 

Blake and the two men run to try to tell the Constitution not to start shelling the area. The American sailor tells his friends to take off, while he holds off the pursuing guards.  He is able to at least wound two of the guards, but he is killed with the arrival of three other guards. 

Blake and Ridgeway reach the dock, but the Admiral is right behind him with his men.  The two Americans sword fight with the Barbary Pirates.  Blake stabs the Admiral who falls into the Mediterranean Sea.  Sam now tells Blake to swim for it.  Blake says no, so Ridgeway pushes him into the sea.  Blake starts swimming toward the ship, which is now standing by to fire the cannon. Blake makes it to the ship and tells the Commodore not to fire the cannon for fear of killing the American prisoners.  The Commodore lets Blake lead a raiding party on the fortress and palace.

Inside with the American prisoners, the Bey says that now all the Americans will be executed.  Some of the Americans start begging the Bey for mercy.  Zoitah tells the Americans to stop that for everyone knows the Bey has no mercy for anyone.   Rather she picks up a bowl of fruit on the table, says that they will fight the Bey instead and tosses the fruit bowl at the soldiers.  Now the Americans attack the guards.

And just now Blake and his raiding party enter the palace courtyard.  The soldiers arrive and rush into the room where the fighting still continues.  The last two fighters are the Bey and Blake who are sword fighting.  Blake ducks down and goes underneath Yusof''s sword with his sword to kill Yusof.  Blake now has Mr. Sharpe thrown in chains and sent to the dungeon.  Blake and Anne now hug each other.



President Thomas Jefferson fought the First Barbary War (1801-1805) against the Muslim pirates of North Africa in the Mediterranean Sea.  The film simplifies the situation to just one particular pirate running pirate ships out of Tripoli in modern Libya.  Thomas Jefferson sends out a spy to Tripoli to find out all about the pirate situation there.  The spy has to constantly be on alert in order to worm his way into the confidence of the Bey of Tripoli.  The spy Blake is calm and cool and quick-thinking enough to win the trust of the Bey.  But almost at any time, the spy is subject to being caught and executed.  Complicating Blake's situation is that he falls in love with a pretty, young woman known as Anne Ridgeway.  Her suspicious brother just makes it tougher for Blake to do his job. 

The real situation was that in 1801 the President of the USA had trouble with all the Barbary states the Ottoman Regencies of Algiers, Tunis and Tripoli, along with independent Morocco.  In June of 1800 the Americans sent three frigates and a schooner to the Mediterranean under Commodore Richard Dale. If upon their arrival, the Commodore should find that war had been declared, the squadron was to protect American shipping from the corsairs by sinking, burning, or destroying the pirate ships.  In Tripoli Bey Yusuf Qaramanli declared war on the United States on May 14, 1801.  The American schooner Enterprize soundly defeated the Tripolitan ship Tripoli off the coast of Malta on August 11.  In 1803 Captain Edward Preble becomes the new commodore for the Mediterranean squadron.  Upon his arrival in the Mediterranean he is told that Morocco was at war with America.  A peace was worked out with Morocco.

In 1804 Tripoli captured the American frigate the Philadelphia and took 307 prisoners.  February 16, 1804 Lt. Stephen Decatur slipped into Tripoli harbor after dark and set fires that totally destroyed the Philadelphia.  Later in 1804, newly-appointed Commodore Samuel Barron commands eleven vessels, more than twice the size of the fleet send in 1801.   With this larger fleet, Barron was actually able to blockade the Tripoli harbor.

 In 1805 peace was negotiated.  On June 4 the American captives from the Philadelphia were safely embarked on US vessels.

[Source:  Original article by Elizabeth Huff, August 2, 2011; revised and expanded by Priscilla and Richard Roberts, September 26, 2011.]


Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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