Plot: The corrupt Governor Elden (John Emery) has accused two men of fencing pirate gold, but neither was aware that the business they worked in was a front, so they make a run for freedom. Davey (Donald O’Connor) and Tom (Will Geer) are able to escape capture and seek passage on a pirate ship, but as the two friends are hapless, they soon irritate the buccaneers. Before they can walk the plank however, Davey concocts a ruse about smallpox and the pirates panic, abandoning ship in the process. Now Davey and Tom find themselves the captains of their own ship, which is then involved in an accidental sea battle and soon enough, the two are viewed as genuine pirates. But all they want to do is clear their names so they can return home, though Elden and some tough pirates stand in the way.
Entertainment Value: This is not the typical swashbuckler, instead Double Crossbones takes a lighter, wackier approach to the high seas. The narrative is silly, but has most of the elements you could want from a pirate movie, with solid period production values and the usual genre tropes present. The tone is light and there’s a good amount of slapstick involved, not to mention some musical moments, but the movie is rooted in the pirate cinema tradition. So yes, Double Crossbones is an offbeat take on the pirates, but it is still a pirate movie, through and through. The costumes, set design, and historical touches add a lot to the experience and for fans of pirate cinema, should be enough of a lure. In addition to the sets and costumes, the cinematography is quite good and the Technicolor visuals can really shine. The movie has some adventure, some action, and of course some humor, as well as the requisite romance thread, with our unlikely hero vying for the hand of his beloved. Double Crossbones is a brisk, fun movie that more than earns our recommendation.
At the center of this colorful romp is Donald O’Connor, an all around solid performer who gets to show off several aspects of his talents here. This is less reliant on action than most pirate movies, but O’Connor gets to do some light physical elements, often for comedic effect. And that humor is where he shines, as he is able to do both physical gags and verbal banter with equal skill. I think he handles the dialogue of Double Crossbones quite well, naive at times, but just smart enough to fake his way through some tricky scenarios, which seems right on point for the character. He is also just plain likable and has good screen presence, so he keeps you interested throughout. His fans will be happy to know he gets a musical number as well, which he performs with skill. I think he carries the movie here and proves to be a more than capable, if a little nontraditional pirate lead. The cast also includes Glenn Strange, Helena Carter, John Emery, Alan Napier, and Will Geer.