Grade:  B-/C+

Adventure Comedy

Not Rated (would be PG)

Today’s audiences know Donald O’Connor mostly as the third wheel in the 1952 Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds musical romance Singin’ in the Rain—you know, the “Make ‘Em Laugh” guy?

But O’Connor, a former vaudevillian, also had his share of top billings, starting with 1938’s Tom Sawyer, Detective and continuing with a series of romantic leads and Francis the Talking Mule pictures. Typecast as a mild-mannered nice guy / funny man, he became Universal’s version of Bob Hope. 

Hope made a Western comedy-musical in 1950 (Fancy Pants), and so did O’Connor (Curtain Call at Cactus Creek). Double Crossbones, which followed a year later,is Universal’s answer to the Hope comedy The Princess and the Pirate, in which a bumbling non-pirate finds himself at sea pretending to be one.

While the Hope film is a classic comedy that was frequently televised and released for home video, Double Crossbones got buried somehow—a forgotten little treasure that was recently dug up by Kino Lorber and released for the first time on Blu-ray for family home theaters. Like many films from the ‘50s, it’s a fun costumed romp that’s heavy on light entertainment, with a plot that’s just complicated enough to keep it interesting.

O’Connor is engaging as always, but surprisingly up to the task of shivering a few timbers and slitting a few gullets—far less cowardly than Hope’s characters. He plays shopkeeper’s apprentice Davy Crandall, whose boss turns out to have been selling stolen merchandise bought from pirates. When he’s wrongfully accused of being one of the pirates, Davy ironically takes to the high seas with his newfound sidekick (Will Geer) and bumbles his way across the Spanish Main to the top of the brotherhood (and sisterhood—pirate Anne Bonny makes an appearance).

Double Crossbones is directed by Charles Barton, who would later direct Disney’s The Shaggy Dog (1959), and in both films the comedy is mostly situational. Fans of classic TV will recognize Geer as the grandpa from The Waltons and Hayden Rorke as the suspicious Dr. Bellows from I Dream of Jeannie. And if the actor playing Captain Kidd looks familiar, it’s because Alan Napier would go on to play Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred, in the campy sixties Batman series.

There’s action, but the violence is minimal compared to films today.

There’s comedy, but the jokes aren’t as clever or in-your-face as in films today.

There’s drama, but not the melodrama of most films of the era or the anxiety-driven films of today.

As I said, Double Crossbones is light entertainment, but fun and watchable light entertainment that manages to sneak in a comic dance routine from O’Connor . . . who indeed makes his cutlass-and-pistol-wielding audience laugh.

Will he have the same effect on audiences today? Probably not. Hope’s The Princess and the Pirate (1944) is still the better movie of the two, and The Crimson Pirate, Treasure Island, and Against All Flags are the best of the pirate movies that Hollywood made in the fifties. Everything else falls somewhere in the 2-2 ½ star range out of 4, and Double Crossbones lands near the higher end of those colorful genre films. It’s guilty pleasure pirate booty that still makes for an entertaining family movie . . . perhaps as the warm-up for one of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movies?

Entire family:  Yes

Run time:  76 minutes Color

Studio/Distributor:  Universal / Kino Lorber

Aspect ratio:  1.37:1

Featured audio:  DTS 2.0

Bonus features:  C

Amazon link


Not rated (would be PG for some violence)

Language:  1/10—Squeaky clean, but I might have missed something

Sex:  0/10—Tepid, not torrid, love interest, with an occasional embrace

Violence:  3/10—There are swordfights (uh, “Pirate!”) and brawls, but nothing cringeworthy

Adult situations:  2/10—Pirates hang out in pubs in Tortuga, and so there’s drinking and smoking in such scenes

Takeaway:  Disney’s Treasure Island sparked several dozen pirate movies in the fifties, more than were made in the previous decades, and Double Cross is an artifact of that era