The Spanish Main (1945)




Director:     Frank Borzage.

Starring:     Paul Henreid (Capt. Laurent Van Horn),  Maureen O'Hara (Contessa Francesca),  Walter Slezak (Don Juan Alvarado),  Binnie Barnes (Anne Bonney),  John Emery (Mario Du Billar),  Barton MacLane (Capt. Benjamin Black),  J.M. Kerrigan (Pillery Gow),  Fritz Leiber (Bishop),  Nancy Gates (Lupita),  Jack La Rue (Lt. Escobar),  Mike Mazurki (Erik Swaine),  Ian Keith (Captain Lussan),  Victor Kilian (Santa Madre Captain),  Curt Bois (Paree),  Antonio Moreno (Commandante).

the area containing the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico was subject to a lot of piracy to get at the gold and other treasures of the New World headed to Spain



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

The Spanish Main  --  cruel, oppressive and ruthless, where power alone was a man's single title to everything he held dear, including his very life. It was, thus, a cruel fate that a peaceful Dutch pilgrim ship should be driven there by torrential waves -- and crash upon the rocks immediately outside Cartagena (in today's Venezuela), its most remorseless citadel."

The commandant comes to tell the Viceroy that a Dutch ship has crashed off the harbor.  The Viceroy says he doesn't want to be disturbed by these routine ship wrecks.  He wants to sleep.  The commandant says that the ship is the Golden Maid.  A survivor of the shipwreck says that his is a special case and he wants to see the Viceroy.  Please at least see the man.  

Captain Laurent Van Horn is brought into see His Excellency Don Juan Alvarado de Soto.  The Viceroy is not kind to the Dutchman.  He says he is in waters that are specifically restricted to the ships of the King of Spain.  The Captain protests that they were blown off course by a hurricane.  They did not deliberately invade the restricted waters.  He only asks that they may fix their ship up and be on their way again.  The Viceroy doesn't want to hear of his case anymore.  So the Captain asks for his ship's papers back.  The Viceroy now looks at the papers for the first time and he sees that the Dutch ship was headed to the Carolinas. 

The Viceroy asserts that the Carolinas belong to the Spanish king. He asks how many survivors are there?  30.  The Viceroy now informs the Captain that he will make indentured servants out of the Dutch survivors.  Of course, the Captain strenuously objects to this, but the Viceroy calls him and his people trespassers and he will decide what will be done with them.  The Captain lunges at the Viceroy, but the guards grab him.  The Viceroy sends the Captain to prison where he will wait for his execution. 

The Captain is thrown in a cell with three men.  The big fellow is Swaine, a seaman off a British schooner.  He can't speak because the Spanish cut out his tongue.  The other fellow is Paree, who landed from France.  And the spokesman is Pillory Gow.  The Captain tells them what his plans are. 

It's feeding time at the prison.  One cell is particularly dark and no one comes for the food.  So the jailor gets up close to the bars to take a look.  There he is grabbed by the Captain,, who gives him over to big man Swaine.  Swaine knocks the jailor out by bouncing his head off the bars a couple of times. 

"Five years later, with the Dutch Captain now not even a trivial memory, Don Alvarado was simultaneously preparing for the arrival of a beautiful bride-to-be   --- enroute to Cartagena to marry him sight unseen  --  a not uncommon custom in those days, and screaming that the seas be cleared of the new scourge of the Spanish Main the Barracuda, a pirate with a murderous craft named after himself."

The Viceroy demands that his commandant catch the Barracuda.  He is tired of hearing excuses for not catching the ship.  The Viceroy himself is busy fitting himself for new clothes for the coming marriage and honeymoon.  The aide better catch that ship or he will be laying on a bed of hot coals, if he returns empty handed.

Contessa Francesca, the daughter of the Viceroy of Mexico, is tired of listening to the teachings of the Bishop.  She wants to go out on deck, but is not allowed to.  In particular, she wants to meet the good looking man she often sees on deck.  The Bishop tells her that the man is Dutch and he is a bit of a "malcontent". 

Lupita comes into the room.  She says that Mr. Montalvo and Mr. Perez are near to dying.  The bishop agrees to see to the two men.  He leaves.  Now the Contessa takes Lupita's cloak and hood and puts them over her clothes and head.  Now she is free to go out on deck and she does so.  The first thing she does is to go and see Van Horn.  She speaks to him but he says nothing.  She starts complaining about his being rude, but it turns out that all he is doing is working, figuring out the speed of the ship.  When he finishes, he is extremely attentive to the pretty woman.  He takes her hand and holds it a bit too long, which makes the Countess angry.  She says she might have known that he was rude.  After all the Hollanders are worse pirates than the English.  Van Horn sees all the Brabant lace she wears and asks, if she dislikes Holland so much, why does she wear the  lace named for the Duchess of Brabant?   She slaps Van Horn across the face and yells for the Captain.  She tells the Captain that this man put hands on her.  The captain asks who is this man?  He is their Dutch navigator working his way to Cartagena.  The Captain says they will hang him.  The Contessa doesn't want that.  Instead, she says she would like to have the offender whipped.

Swaine and Paree are also on the boat and they watch as their buddy gets whipped.  The whipping ceases, however, when all men are called to their battle stations.  The ship the Barracuda is headed right toward them.  The Captain of the Spanish vessel is confident that they will repel any attack by the pirate ship.  The Spanish cannon are fired at the Barracuda.  Swaine and Paree go to cut Van Horn loose, but Van Horn tells them not now, later. 

The Contessa and Lupita come to the rescue of Van Horn.  They cut him loose.  Van Horn acts as if he is near to death.  The Contessa gives him some water and fans him with her hands.  All of a sudden he perks up and then grabs and kisses the Contessa.  Lupita tries to slap Van Horn back to reality, but he just continues to kiss the Contessa.  Finally, Swaine comes up and grabs Lupita.  She screams for him to let her down.  Spanish guards come to arrest them, but Van Horn runs one of the guards through with his sword.  Now the three buddies grab control of the rudder and turn the ship in a way favorable to the pirates.  Very quickly, the ship is in control of Van Horne and his men. 

Now they have their eyes set on a second Spanish Ship the San Pablo.  The Contessa tells Captain Van Horn that if he lets the San Pablo go, she will marry him.  And it will be a proper and official wedding officiated by the Bishop himself.  Van Horn seems to be thinking who does this prisoner thinks she is?  But he lets the San Pablo go free.  He now grabs the Contessa by the hand and marches her over to the Bishop and says he wants to be married to this woman immediately.  The Bishop says he won't do it, because a marriage cannot be performed under coercion.  The Contessa says she wants to marry the Captain.  The Bishop and Lupita are aghast at the thought.  Lupita says she will not cooperate with this travesty, so Swaine grabs her up and takes her to the Contessa's room.  The Contessa follows them. 

In front of the whole crew, the Bishop marries Van Horn to Contessa Francesca. 

Van Horn makes Francesca angry because he just told her to go get dressed for bed and wait for him.  When he tries to open the door, he finds a chest pushed up against it.  He pushes past it.  The Captain tells her that he is very pleased with himself.  He has enjoyed taking ships and gold from Don Alvarado, but now he has taken his bride also.  Francesca asks if this is why he married her, so Don Alvaro could not have her?  Van Horn says it could be and it could be because of the gold from Don Alvarado.  But then, it could also be because he loves her.  He kisses her passionately.  She raises a dagger behind his back, but then just drops it.  Van Horn asks if the dagger was meant for herself or for him?  She says she has decided that she doesn't need the dagger.  She was taught not to let little people and peasants bother her. 

This only makes Van Horn more angry and he demands that she get dressed in her night gown or he will give her to the crew to play with. 

He asks her if she is really worth 50,000 pieces of eight? And what does he get but Contessa Francesca " . . . spoiled in the cradle; taught to be useless and selfish and arrogant; schooled in cruelty and stubborn pride, and cursed with an uncommonly vile temper, which probably you perfected yourself."  She says she is ready.  He likes what he sees.  He draws back the covers of his bed, carries her to the bed and then says good night.  Now she's really angry. 

At breakfast Van Horn tells the Bishop and the two women that they are his guests of honor.  They will be released as soon as they get the ransom money.  They will land at Tortuga, he will write the ransom demand for Don Alvarado, the money will arrive and then his honored guests will be free to go.  The Bishop asks about the Contessa and Van Horn says she will remain his wife.  He opens the door to his quarters and the Contessa throws a small bowl at him.  A former barber arrested for blackmail named De Bilar tells the Captain that he should send in Lupita to his wife, because a noble lady is not expected to do her own hair.  The Captain tells him that since the fellow is a barber, he will leave it in his hands. 

On shore, the former barber starts working on winning the confidence of the pirate Captain Benjamin Black.  The two men go into a tavern.  Captain Black tells the men he is sitting with that Captain Van Horn is "using us".  He is using the strength of all the pirates, because if Alvarado comes after his intended, all the pirates will have to fight off the cheated groom to be. He adds that they must run the Captain and his wench out of Tortuga before it's too late.  The ex-barber says that the pirate Brotherhood will have to decide the matter. 

Van Horn and his bride arrive at the tavern and are given a grand reception.  The Contessa does not like being surrounded and closed in by all the dirty, stinky pirates.  To make matters worse for Francesca, a lady pirate shows up.  The woman's name is Anne Bonny (1702-1782).  When Van Horn introduces her to his wife, Anne doesn't like it one bit.  She calls Francesca "a powdered, prissy trollop".   Anne draws her sword, but Van Horn intervenes.  Anne demands satisfaction so a pistol duel is set up. 

Van Horn loads the two dueling pistols.  As the injured party, Anne gets to shoot first.  But both women fire at the same time and a black cloud darkens the faces of both women.  Anne is really mad because she knows that Van Horn loaded the pistols with chimney soot.  But, then, she starts laughing.  She says she might have know that Van Horn would pull such a trick.  Now all the pirates in the tavern starts laughing and roaring.  Francesca doesn't like being laughed at and she starts walking away.  Anne tells Van Horn that this will teach the Captain a lesson for marrying a woman without a sense of humor.  But then Van Horn runs his thumb down the right cheek of Anne and shows his blackened thumb to her.  Now she starts swinging at Van Horn but he dodges all three attempts to hit him. 

Now Captain Black speaks up saying they don't want him and his wench around here because it will bring down upon them the weight of the whole of the Spanish Main.  Captain Van Horn says that Don Alvarado has been afraid to come out and fight.  But his bride will bring the coward out of hiding and he and his crew will be ready for the Viceroy.  He says if this is the charge against him, he pleads guilty to the Brotherhood.  Now Captain Black tries to kill Van Horn.  The ladies warn Van Horn and a sword fight begins.  Van Horn wins easily and demands that Captain Black be out of the Tortugas before sunlight tomorrow or else. He now grabs the arm of his wife and out they walk.  The two get another warm outburst of affection from the pirate crowd. 

Anne Bonny looks to the ex-barber for support and the man nods yes to her.

Van Horn comes into Francesca's room to say that he was proud of her today for standing up to Anne Bonny.  She says something sarcastic to him and he scolds her for this habit of hers.  They argue a bit more until Van Horn says he really, truly wants Francesca to be his wife.  They are about to kiss when Anne Bonny and other pirates burst into the room.  They grab Van Horn and take him out of the room.  Anne says that they are sending the Contessa to Cartagena and Alvarado.  Van Horn will stay in Tortuga and the Contessa for now will stay in her room on the ship. 

As the men put Van Horn in the small boat to be rowed to shore, Anne tells the men when the ship is out of the harbor, they will fire a ship's cannon as the signal to let Van Horn go. 

On shore Captain Black tells his aide to get the Cobra moving quickly as they will sail out within an hour.  Van Horn is brought to the prison, but Captain Black gets the drop on the jailor De Lussan.  When De Lussan refuses to turn over his prisoner, Captain Black shoots him.  He reloads his pistol to shoot Van Horn rather than run him though with his sword.  Van Horn sees Swaine passing by and he calls out for his help.  While Van Horn kicks the pistol hand of Black, Swaine dives on Black.  The men struggle with each other and fall over the side of a bridge into the water.  Van Horn tells his drunken friend Pillory to untie him.  But that proves unnecessary as far as Swaine is concerned, because he has already taken Black out.

A cannon shot is heard in the bay.  Van Horn says that's the signal that Anne and De Bilar have escaped with his wife headed for Cartagena.  But Van Horn has an idea.  They will take Black's ship, the Cobra.

In Cartagena, Alvarado dines with the Bishop.  Francesca is announced and comes to the dinner table.  The husband and wife-to-be are both shocked upon seeing each other for the first time.  Alvarado is shocked with pleasure and Francesca is shocked with disgust.  They discuss the annulment of the marriage but the Bishop says that process would take 18 months.  His Excellency wants to marry Francesca tomorrow.  Francesca makes a bid for more time, but Alvarado is too eager to marry the beauty.  The Bishop asks for more time too, but again it comes to nothing.  Now Francesca insists on returning home to her father.  Alvarado will not budge on the matter.

Alvarado is on board the pirate ship the Barracuda.  He says he wants to thank the pirates.  When he gets aboard the pirate ship, however, he says that the ship is now his.  Anne Bonny fights off some Spanish guards, but they pursue her until she is captured.  Alvarado says Anne will either be hanged or burned at the stake.  Francesca says to Alvarado that she promised the pirates safe return to Tortuga.  Alvarado resists and Francesca insists.  So Alvarado gives in.  But as soon as Francesca is out of ear-shot, he tells the guards to put Anne and the others into prison until it is time to execute them.

Alvarado goes to the Captain's room and tells De Bilar that he shall be hanged, but he says De Bilar will hang by his thumbs, not by his neck.  Just then news comes of a pirate schooner coming up along the coast.  De Bilar jumps at the chance to make good.  He says he knows this Barracuda fellow and he can be of some assistance to Alvarado.  He tells Alvarado if he helps him, then he should receive what the Contessa promised him: 50,000 pieces of eight and the order of the Golden Spur.  Alvarado marvels at the man's audacity, but says his wish will be granted, if they can capture the Barracuda. 

When Van Horn lands on land, De Bilar runs out to greet him.  Fortunately, nobody believes anything that De Bilar tells them.  So De Bilar changes the topic of conversation to Francesca.  He says it's
Francesca who betrayed Van Horn.  The crew of the Cobra are all in prison now because of her treachery.  And Anne Bonny is to burn at the stake.  Furthermore, Francesca couldn't wait to move into His Excellency's Palace.  Van Horn asks De Bilar to forgive him for not believing him at first.  Now he wants De Bilar to go back to the palace and gather more information, then meet him tonight at the market place. 

After De Bilar leaves, the fellows with Van Horn say they can't believe that the Captain would choose to believe that rascal.  The Captain says who said that he believed the man?  Some of what he says is true and some of it is not. 

De Bilar returns to Alvarado.  He says that for sure Van Horn will try to get into the palace to speak to the Contessa.  Alvarado is sure of that too and plans to capture the man. 

At night Van Horn shows up at the Contessa's room on the terrace.  He accuses her of betraying him.  She tries her hardest to convince Van Horn that she truly loves him.  He doesn't believe her.  She hears some noise in her room and tells her husband that he must leave now or be captured.  But Van Horn says that he thought of the possibility of his being captured and is ready for it.  Just then Alvarado and his guards show up.  Alvarado can't believe that the Barracuda is that impudent Dutchman that he was going to make an indentured servant.  He is thrilled to have the Dutchman back under his control.  But he is mistaken, because Van Horn trips a guard and jumps of the terrace railing to the ground below. 

In the garden he tells his three buddies from the Cartagena prison to be sure and get the weapons to him and to the other prisoners.  Now he leaves and lets himself be captured.  The plan starts to unravel, however, as Van Horn's three buddies all get captured by the Spanish guards. 

The Contessa sees the buddies captured and decides that now it is all left up to her.  She flirts with the jailor and gets him drunk.  She then tells him to take the basket of wine inside, while she waits for him outside.  The jailor takes the liquor basket.  He drops off a cooked turkey to the buddies as their last meal.  Inside the turkey is a hidden knife.  He gives another turkey to Van Horn and Pillory. 

The Contessa warns the jailor that the two of them together must not be found by the Viceroy.  So he places the Contessa in the jail cell that holds Anne Bonny.  He then hides himself out of sight.

The Viceroy and his men come down to the prison to check on Van Horn.  De Bilar is with the Viceroy as Van Horn had figured. 

After the Viceroy and his men leave, the jailor comes back to get the Contessa out of the jail cell.  The jailor gets a real surprise when the Contessa comes out with a pistol pointed right at the jailor's big mid-section.  Then she lets Van Horn and Pillory out of their cell.  Van Horn goes to his wife and hugs her tightly.  By now all the pirates have been let out of their cells.  The whole crowd heads for the armory, but Van Horn hears some noise and stays behind.  He sees De Bilar enter the prison with the head of the prison.  De Bilar says that he was told that some woman came to the prison earlier and never returned. 

Van Horn makes a sound by rattling the locks of a cell door.  De Bilar comes down to check on it.  He sees that all the prison cells are empty.  Van Horn is behind one of the doors in the prison.  The Contessa comes down the stairs with a sword behind her back.  De Bilar teases her about her not being in her wedding gown.  She walks around him and backs up to Van Horn who grabs the sword.   The jailor comes in to help De Bilar, but the Contessa shoots him.  Then Van Horn dispatches De Bilar.  More guards come in, but also a lot of pirates show up.  Anne Bonny is wounded badly, but the guards are defeated. 

Alvarado is advised that the pirates have escaped and there is an uprising.  He says to bring the extra soldiers onto the ship.  They will wait for Barracuda to show up. 

Van Horn and his buddies are rowing the Contessa out to the ship.  The guys are wearing hoods and cloaks of the friars.  Alvarado sees her coming and he orders a guard of honor to receive the Contessa.  She is welcomed aboard as are the friars with her.  And now pirates come out of the waters of the harbor and start climbing up the ship's side.  Two guards are taken out of action.

Alvarado says to the Contessa that they will be married aboard the ship.  His plan, however, is spoiled by the appearance of Van Horn.  Alvarado is confident of victory because he has extra fighting men aboard.  He calls for the lieutenant, but no one shows up.  The decks are completely deserted.  Alvarado goes over the bell to ring it, but a pirate hits him in the left side with a knife throw.  The large man pulls the knife out of his side and rings the bell.  No one comes to his rescue, but Van Horn's three buddies show up in front of Alvarado. 

Van Horn says they are going to run past the harbor fort.  Alvarado says he will never make it because the fort has orders to shoot if the ship even moves from its position in the harbor.  The fort gets ready to fire on the ship.  The firing starts.  When the pirates don't fire back, the commandant of the fort figures that the wedding is just taking place earlier than expected.  After all, they can see the Viceroy and the Contessa sitting in two regal chairs with a priest in front of them.  So the men in the fort fire celebratory rockets up into the air to wish the couple a happy marriage. 

Alvarado now succumbs to his knife wound.  The ship sails on toward Tortuga.

The couple are finally together and happily so, without anyone trying to interrupt their happiness.  Van Horn picks her up and takes her to his cabin below. 


Good pirate story with lots of action. Paul Henreid (as Capt. Laurent Van Horn),  Maureen O'Hara (as Contessa Francesca) and Walter Slezak (as Don Juan Alvarado) were all good in their roles.  Ms. O'Hara looked very striking in her role.  Only one of the characters was an actual historic person and that was Anne Bonny.  She married a small-time pirate named James Bonny and sometime between 1714 and 1718 (12-16 years old) Anne and her husband moved to Nassau, Bahamas (a sanctuary for English pirates).  She met Captain John "Calico Jack" Rackham in Cuba and became his mistress. They had a child in Cuba named Cunningham.  Cunningham may have been left with friends or simply abandoned. Anne divorced her husband and continued the life of a pirate with Rackham, who she latter married at sea. 

Anne, Rackham, and Mary Read stole a ship and put out to sea. Anne fought right alongside the men and was proficient at it.  In 1720, Anne and Rackham were condemned to be hanged in Jamaica.  Anne and Mary were both pregnant and they were granted a stay of execution until their children were born.  Mary either died of a fever or in childbirth. 

It is thought that Bonny's father got her out of prison and she went back to Charles Town, South Carolina.  She divorced and remarried and had 10 more children with her husband.  She became a respectable woman in South Carolina.  She died at the age of 80 in 1782. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.



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