powered by AFI
In late 1814, New Orleans has been under the control of the United States for less than a decade, and Gen. Andrew Jackson, who has been leading the fight against the British for the past two years, realizes that to win the war, he must maintain possession of the vital, still-wild port. With Washington, D.C. having been captured by the enemy, the outcome of the war lies in Jackson's hands. Desperate to prevent an impending blockade by the British, Jackson heads to New Orleans, despite warnings that notorious French Creole pirate Jean Lafitte is the de facto ruler of the city and especially of Barataria, the outlying swamps. Meanwhile, in New Orleans, Lafitte flouts territorial law by selling his booty outside city limits, thereby avoiding paying taxes, while also secretly courting Annette, the daughter of Governor William Claiborne. At one rendezvous, Annette protests that she can no longer see Lafitte, as he is defying the American cause, which her father is attempting to solidify. The pirate replies that he has forbidden his men from attacking American ships and tells her that she can be the queen of Barataria, regardless of who rules New Orleans. Annette dismisses Lafitte's offer, stating that she needs a man of whom she can be proud. Later, at the harbor, Capt. Brown, one of Lafitte's men and the father of the fiery Bonnie, one of the pirates, watches as a strongbox of gold is loaded onto an American ship. The ship also carries Annette's younger sister Marie, who is eloping with her beau. Despite Lafitte's prohibition on attacking Americans, Brown orders his men to capture the ship, the Corinthian , and after securing the loot, burns the vessel without offering aid to those trapped aboard. Only young cabin boy Miggs is saved, and Lafitte is so horrified when he learns of the vicious crime that he has Brown hanged. In Barataria, some of the pirates want to kill Miggs, as he is the only witness to the Corinthian 's fate, but Lafitte protects the lad. Bonnie vows revenge against Lafitte for her father's death, and yells at the others that Lafitte is supporting the Americans only because of Annette. Soon after, Lafitte is visited by British naval officers who offer him royal pardons, land grants and a fortune in gold if he helps the British take New Orleans. Lafitte's righthand man, Dominique You, ridicules their promise to give Lafitte a captaincy in the British Navy, noting that Lafitte has far greater power as a pirate. Although the British vow to destroy Lafitte if he does not join them, he casually states that he will send them his answer in a week, then dismisses them. Later, Dominique teases Lafitte about his devotion to Annette, and Lafitte replies that he has come to believe in the ideals America represents, and that at some point in his life, a man must change. Lafitte then takes the letters from the British to Claiborne, who deeply mistrusts him. Lafitte asks only for a pardon for him and his men, and a "place under the American flag," in exchange for joining the Americans, and Claiborne agrees to take the matter to the defense council. Annette is so thrilled by Lafitte's transformation that she accepts his marriage proposal, but Lafitte's happiness is ruined when he returns to Barataria and discovers that the pirate village has been destroyed by the Americans. Bonnie tells Lafitte that the survivors have been imprisoned in New Orleans, and he determines to free them. Bonnie, who cannot help loving Lafitte, then begs him to escape with her, but he demurs. Meanwhile, in the city, Annette castigates her father for betraying Lafitte, while Mercier, a cowardly member of the council, asserts that their only hope is to surrender to the British. His comment is overheard by Jackson, who has just arrived, and the general proclaims that he will burn New Orleans rather than surrender it. Afterward, as Jackson rests alone, Lafitte sneaks in through a window and holds the general at gunpoint to demand the release of his men. Lafitte offers Jackson a huge store of arms in exchange, and Jackson, impressed by Lafitte's courage, agrees. As they talk, a young French Creole bursts in with news that the British are burning his father's plantation, only eight miles away. Lafitte helps Jackson devise strategic defense plans, then goes to the jail, where he tries to rally Dominique, who tells him that the men feel betrayed, as they believe that he has abandoned them. Lafitte shows him the pardon for himself signed by Jackson, who has offered to pardon any other pirate who fights alongside him. Lafitte then leaves, while on the battle lines, the Americans grow fretful, worrying that he will not bring the much-needed supplies. Claiborne arrives with three hundred city dwellers to reinforce the soldiers, although they are still vastly outnumbered by the British. Just as the battle begins, Lafitte arrives with not only the ammunition, but all of his men. Jackson tells Lafitte that due to the heavy fog, he cannot employ his deadly, long-range Kentucky rifles, and so Lafitte undertakes a dangerous mission, accompanied by one of his men and one of Jackson's Indian scouts. The trio succeeds in sending aloft a fiery arrow to pinpoint the British Army's location, and soon the Americans win the battle. Claiborne hosts a party celebrating the victory, and both Jackson and Lafitte are feted by the townspeople. The evening is spoiled, however, when Bonnie arrives dressed in the wedding gown that Marie intended to wear, which was taken in the booty from the Corinthian . Miggs also appears, and when he is relentlessly questioned about the Corinthian 's fate, Lafitte comes to his aid by revealing that he was there when the ship was sunk. Lafitte does not place the blame on Brown, however, stating instead that as the leader, he was responsible. Annette tries to defend her beloved, but the townsmen grab him and plan to lynch him. Jackson stops them, insisting that the pardon offered to the pirates still remains in force, as they stood by the Americans during the battle. Lafitte turns down his offer, asking only for an hour's "head start." Jackson agrees, and although Annette begs to go with him, Lafitte tells her that he loves her too much to subject her to a life on the run, without a country to call home. Telling Claiborne that while he cannot restore his other daughter to him, he can give him the thing he loves most in all the world, Lafitte places Annette's hand in his, then leaves. Later, aboard his ship, Lafitte sails away with Dominique, Bonnie and the others. Bitterly declaring that they have no flag to fly, Lafitte gives orders to head to sea, and Bonnie joins him at the wheel.