Nate & Hayes Dec 13, 2010 13:38:13 GMT -5
Post by Eddie Love on Dec 13, 2010 13:38:13 GMT -5
About once each decade, after the golden age of the Hollywood pirate movie ended in the early 50s, there’s been a big-budget attempt to revive the genre. In the 70s it was SWASHBUCKLER, in the 90s CUTTHROAT ISLAND and, most successfully, at the turn of this century the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN pictures. When the 80s had their turn at the barrel, it was with NATE AND HAYES. Alas, the film didn’t do much box office upon its release, but seen today holds up very well and is an all-around irresistible delight.
The high-spirited adventure concerns “Bully” Hayes a privateer sailing the Pacific islands in the days before WW I. He’s transporting a young, uptight missionary Nathanial Williamson, and his fiancé Sophie to their new island home. Intrigued by the chemistry between himself and Sophie on the voyage, Hayes returns to the island days later only to find that slave-traders have raided the young couple’s wedding ceremony, abducting the bride and leaving the groom for dead. Nathaniel is convinced Hayes was responsible for the bloodbath, but soon realizes that Bully’s old nemesis Ben Peese is the real culprit. Nate and Hayes join forces to rescue Sophie and scuttle Peese’s alliance with a German navel officer.
The film stars Tommy Lee Jones as Hayes back when he was a reliable name, but before he was a real star. He’s completely terrific, full of wit and cutting a dashing heroic figure. He’s perfect for this type of role. Michael O’Keefe plays his youthful counterpart Nate and he’s agreeably relatable. The girl in the mix is Jenny Seagrove, who’s a ravishing, fresh-faced beauty but with a kind of girl-next-door understatement and she’s wholly believable in the action scenes.
The screenplay is credited to among others – John Hughes! Which may surprise you, as it’s not especially jokey, though there are some cute asides as well as some goofy jokes at the expense of the Pacific natives. For the most part, it’s light-hearted but played straight. And the picture has a neat structure that opens with an action set-piece, than tells the heart of the story in a flashback as Bully recounts his tale while in a prison cell awaiting execution.
There are a few things I especially love about N&H. One is that the film is clearly trying to revive the spirit of the bygone swashbuckling adventure, but it’s not a tongue-in-cheek pastiche. It’s refreshingly un-referential. It doesn’t re-hash characters and events from prior films. Okay, in Hayes’ very first scene he goads one of his men for being “afraid of snakes” – a clear shot at RAIDERS, but otherwise the film strikes out on its own. (Although, like the PIRATES pictures, the central triangle with the callow youth, the plucky heroine and the worldly rascal may call to mind STAR WARS, it’s fairly archetypical.) Also, the film’s setting and time period are fairly novel for a film of this sort.
Another reason I love this picture is that the there’s some real world implications to the stakes of the story. If you watch the classic swashbucklers from the golden age of Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power the story always revolved around some righteous theme of social justice (sorry, Glen Beck..) or at least patriotism. Disney’s PIRATES movies today are all fantasy, there’s no such, underlying theme or message. But Nate and Hayes are fighting against the slave trade and the forces of repressive colonialism; they’re not just trying to get rich. This adds some rousing zing to their adventure.
The film looks great, and has the same naturalistic, period feel of Australian films made around this time. (Lee Tamahouri was the first assistant director.) True, there are some pretty silly set pieces in the scenes with the native islanders with their elaborate apparatus for sacrificing Sophie, but even these are all exteriors – we don’t get any bloated soundstage boondoggles. For the most part, the picture is essentially realistic. The manner that Bully evades the German warship at the climax is entirely practical. (I’m certain if this story were made today they’d have tons of anachronistic devices at work.) The movie isn’t excessive budget –wise, in the way that many pictures of this sort made in wake of RAIDERS were. And, everything benefits from a sensational score that drapes the action with gorgeous melodic airs.
Watching NATE & HAYES there’s a nagging little voice in the back of your head bemoaning the fact that this film wasn’t a hit when it was released. But it’s never too late, and watching it today will revert you back to the age of…oh…about 11-years old as you marvel at it’s unaffected fun.