A pirate’s wife she’ll be…
I struck gold after finding this comedy musical parody of the Pirates from Penzance musical with 80s pop culture references, Dallas’ Christopher Atkins and Kristy McNichol.
The Pirate Movie (1982) Trailer, British Secret Agent 007
In the 1980s, in America, Dallas (1978-91) actors – and other acting stars – went through a phase of releasing records or singing for the masses. Like those Australian soap stars in Neighbours (1985-), some Dallasers proved better at singing than others.
Supertall Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing) sang a
sappy romantic duet with a tiny French chanteuse, Mireille Mathieu (as seen and heard HERE) and their record hit the European Charts. In the summer of 1980 – as we waited to find out who shot JR – Larry Hagman (who played JR) sang to the Queen Mother in her 80th birthday celebrations.
Hagman sang as his character JR Ewing with lyrics about his favourite things to that familiar The Sound of Music (1965) tune (for the song of the same name but with more wholesome things). This was when he wasn’t forgetting his words. But luckily his famous off-screen mother Mary Martin went on stage to help him out. Dallas actresses included Victoria Principal (with Andy Gibb) and Charlene Tilton. Of course, Audrey Landers and Howard Keel both had a singing career before the big D.
So it was a pleasant surprise on discovering this film musical with a bonus Dallas star! In this pirate film, named The Pirate Movie (1982), the young male lead was famous as the star of 1980’s The Blue Lagoon (which isn’t a prequel to this film). The actor was Christopher Atkins, here in his pre-Dallas heyday. He starred in Season Four of Dallas as JR and Sue Ellen’s son John Ross’s camp counsellor Peter as gittered on about HERE.
The Pirate Movie was an Australian production with surprisingly none of the Neighbours cast. Its plot was loosely based on the comic Gilbert and Sullivan opera The Pirates of Penzance. The film was a success… albeit at the Razzies Award ceremony scooping up a huge rack of nominations. This film now has the last laugh with it now having cult status alongside those classics such as The Devil’s Advocate (1997), Night of the Lepus (1972) and Village of the Damned (1960).
The film starts with an in film movie with a raucous, rambunctious song sung by pirates of all shapes and sizes. There’s swashbuckling and swordfights galore. Then after this film literally ends, the real story begins.
This is as young Mabel Stanley (Kristy McNichol) attends Pirate week with a lot of swimsuit-clad women. Mabel is carrying a super huge ghetto blaster – that John Cusack would have trouble holding over his shoulders in Say Anything (1989) – for no apparent reason. She’s also overdressed (wearing jeans and a shirt.. why?) and wears specs.
She is coerced into a sword fighting presentation in front of a crowd. This is with a hunky unnamed instructor (Christopher Atkins). She’s obviously awkward and he’s super confident (and all the girls love him). He later invites her to join him on his yacht.
However after she joins him with food supplies – cue product placement 1980s Aussie style – the yacht sets off without her after the other girls interfere with their plans. Mabel decides to hire a boat to join him. She’s caught in a storm, and is flung overboard and then washed up on a beach.
She then dreams that this hunky instructor is a trainee pirate, named Frederic who wants to give up his pirating ways. He’s not a happy man as the pirates murdered his family. Instead, he wants revenge. However, his adoptive father, the Pirate King (Ted Hamilton) doesn’t want him to leave. He wants to adopt him as his son and make him a proper pirate. But Frederic refuses and leaves in a wee boat.
Meanwhile, on land, Mabel’s friends and others are involved in an all-girl song and dance number. Frederic – still in his boat – spots them by telescope and decides to visit them. He then sees Mabel, who now is minus her specs and wearing a nice pretty frock and decides she’s the one and she’s the love of his life. Mabel is the youngest daughter of Major-General Stanley (Bill Kerr), and she can only marry when her eldest sisters are married.
Fredric rows ashore. Then Mabel and Frederic then lock eyes and sing a sappy duet as they spot each other at opposite ends of the beach. The moment they meet fall in love.. and he asks her to marry him. Just. Like. That. Cue tropes, soft focus and montage and a more soppy 80s ballad. Then a snog. Simultaneously, the pirate ship is approaching land. The pirates then disembark and kidnap the other girls.
After introducing Frederic to her father, her father promises Mabel’s hand in marriage. But only if Mabel and Frederic find the family treasure and he stops his pirating ways for good. Mabel also has to keep to the local custom where her elder sisters marry first. The family treasure was stolen by the Pirate King and his cronies.
The Pirate King, however, has the location of the treasure tattooed on his back. Mabel and Frederic visit the pirate boat at night with the aim to discover the whereabouts of the treasure… so tune in to see if Mabel gets a happy ending.
I was worried after reading about those Razzie award nominations that this film would be Awful with a capital A. However, you’ll know that I love at least two other Razzie nominated films – ie Xanadu (1980) and The Swarm (1978) – and so I really, really enjoyed it. It was possibly due to the fact that like the cast of Mamma Mia (2008) everyone in the cast looks like they are having so much fun in making the movie.
Christopher Atkins pirate often looks like he’s parodying his Blue Lagoon character. He has a similar haircut and Frederic is a wee bit naive when it comes to life, love and all that goes with it. Kristy McNichol was a more confident Mabel in her dream world who enjoys talking to the fourth wall and is a natural comic. They are a credible couple and have a great comic on-screen chemistry.
Both have good singing voices and give mesmerising performances in their duets and solo numbers. The songs are set to scenes with familiar tropes from 1980s pop videos and romantic montages. The tunes and lyrics themselves have a strong eighties vibe to them. They fit in extremely well with the film’s plot of a young 1980s teen dreaming of true love. As a teen, I would have been first in the queue for this cheesy musical’s soundtrack for those sappy ballads alone.
The Major General’s army dance routines reminded me of Monty Python sketches. However, I adored Pirate King himself and he was my favourite character. Hamilton’s hammed up acting performance as an English pirate hit the mark brilliantly. The staged numbers with the whole cast are beautifully set up with ensemble songs and dances that were enthusiastically carried out and gave their all in fabulously choreographed performances.
There are some wonderful sword fighting scenes with the pirates and the army. These include tropes and film references reminiscent of other swashbuckling films in this genre. There are also some in film parody moments of then recent movies including the original Star Wars trilogy and 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. These delightful homages are within the context of this film, but I won’t tell you where they are in the film as they are a lovely surprise when they appear.
After this film continued Atkins reign as a pin-up for teens everywhere and his songs entered the musical charts. But then his ship came in after posing for a pin-up of a different kind. This was a pin-up that appealed to those who could reach the top shelf. This as his sex appeal was rebranded for an older generation who were clamouring for a toyboy. He was duly cast as the young thing to older Sue Ellen’s love interest in Dallas and in another younger man role who gave Lesley Ann Warren a night in heaven.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂/10
We Love Pirates Week 2021 No 5
This film was written for Hamlette’s Soliloquy‘s Pirate Week Blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include Kristy McNichol in Murder She Wrote, The Love Boat and The Bionic Woman. Christopher Atkins starred in Hotel, Dallas and a post on Leading Ladies and their Toyboys. Bill Kerr appeared in Doctor Who. Ted Hamilton appeared in The Love Boat and MASH.