Saturday, 28 June 2014


An English coastal town serves as the haven for a gang of smugglers and it’s up to the intrepid Captain Collier (Patrick Allen) to unmask them and bring them to justice …

In 1961, Hammer embarked upon adapting the adventure stories of Russell Thorndike, hoping to bridge the gap between their Gothic horror films and their recent attempts at more “family friendly” swashbuckler fare, including Sword of Sherwood Forest (1960) and The Pirates of Blood River (1961). Their efforts were nearly squashed when word got out that Walt Disney acquired the rights to the stories and was mounting his own, bigger budgeted adaptation with Patrick McGoohan. Happily, a compromise was reached: Hammer would be allowed to use the 1937 film version of Doctor Syn as their template, provided they didn’t actually use the name of Dr. Syn.  Since this was the model they were looking to follow anyway, the matter was amicably resolved and the company was free to move forward with what would become Captain Clegg.

Released in the US under the more horrific title of Night Creatures, the film offers up some classic Hammer horror imagery while playing things in a lighter, more family-friendly key.  Bloodshed is kept to a minimum and the supernatural angle is rationally explained in the final reel.  The emphasis is more on derring do and adventure, with large doses of impish humor, though the opening scenes would seem to promise more scares and chills.  Many reference books therefore list the film as a horror film, but truth be told it’s no more horror in the strictest sense than their later “historical melodrama,” Rasputin the Mad Monk (1966).  Even so, the spooky imagery on display is very potent indeed and anybody willing to accept the film as a more genteel genre offering – a sort of Hammer Horror For The Whole Family – is hardly doing the film a disservice in doing so.

Peter Cushing gives one of his finest performances as the meek Reverend Dr. Blyss, who is in fact actually the notorious pirate Captain Clegg.  Clegg is believed to have been executed years before and indeed, for all intents and purposes this is the case: having narrowly escaped the hangman’s noose, he turns over a new leaf and settles down under his assumed identity, doing good deeds and rescuing his poor village from poverty… while still doing a little light smuggling on the side.  It’s a fascinating character which allows Cushing to switch between being soft spoken and grimly authoritative without missing a beat; in this sense, it’s something of a dry run for what is arguably his finest performance for Hammer, as Baron Frankenstein in Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969), wherein his courtly exterior helps to mask a perverse and vile reality.  Captain Collier is the nominal hero, but he’s scripted as something of a dolt and Patrick Allen sensibly plays him that way, allowing Cushing to quietly steal their scenes.  Allen is very effective in the part, truth be told, and his willingness to play up the character’s thick-headed and self-righteous persona makes him a very satisfying adversary for Clegg.  23-year-old Oliver Reed, just a few years away from becoming England’s biggest box office draw, is very good as the dashing Harry.

Reed was one of the few younger actors at Hammer who could take the romantic interest roles and make them into something interesting and he certainly makes the best of his screen time here.  His love interest is played by Yvonne Romain, arguably the most drop dead gorgeous woman ever to grace a Hammer film, and she does well enough as the usual under written damsel in distress.  The supporting cast includes a number of stellar character actors: Jack MacGowran (The Fearless Vampire Killers, The Exorcist), David Loge (Corruption, The Return of the Pink Panther), Martin Benson (Gorgo, The Omen)… but if anybody comes close to stealing the show from its star, it’s the wonderful Michael Ripper.  Ripper was often squandered in minor roles for Hammer, but he has a rare meaty role in this films and he delivers a moving and amusing performance.

Well directed by Peter Graham Scott and boasting a stirring Don Banks soundtrack, Captain Clegg also moves at a good clip and holds up as a marvelous piece of Saturday matinee afternoon entertainment.

Captain Clegg makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of Final Cut in the UK. The region B presentation has garnered some controversy online, but truly: when DOESN’T a Hammer Blu-ray release garner a bit of grousing?  On the downside, the master provided by Universal is overmatted at 2:1. This is simply what Final Cut had to work with and that’s all there is to it: all the complaining in the world isn’t going to result in a new master being struck for a relatively obscure catalogue title such as this. With that caveat in mind, the framing is thoughtfully done and doesn’t look unduly tight, excepting one or two shots here and there.  Colors are vivid, detail is strong and the source materials are in good shape.  Some of the optical effects look a little weak, but on the whole the image is robust and pleasing to the eye. The mono English soundtrack is very good, too: Banks’ score has lots of pep and the dialogue is easy to make out.

English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing are included.  Extras include a 30 minute featurette narrated by the wonderful John Carson title The Making of Captain Clegg.  Hammer historian Wayne Kinsey scripted and introduced the piece, which is mostly comprised of Carson talking over behind the scenes images and documents; Carson’s marvelous, James Mason-like voice makes this a pleasure to watch and Kinsey’s script packs in plenty of interesting information and production background.  Up next is another featurette, The Mossman Legacy: George Mossman’s Carriage Collection, wherein Kinsey takes us on a tour of the collection of carriages leant by the late George Mossman to English production companies, including Hammer.  It’s an interesting glimpse into a crucial but often neglected aspect of film production and breezes by at a mere 6 minutes. Lastly, there is a stills gallery.

Images and Design Marcus Brooks




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