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The film's opening title card reads: "A Paramount Picture Supervised by Cecil B. DeMille." DeMille's name appears in the form of a signature. At the end of the opening credits, a written prologue states that although "Three American Presidents condemned, pardoned, and again condemned" buccaneer Jean Lafitte, "Fate placed into the hands of this man-without-a-country the destiny of a country-the United States-fighting for its very existence in the War of 1812." According to reviews and information in the Paramount Collection at the AMPAS Library, the picture's original release contained a prologue featuring DeMille, in which the producer described Lafitte's place in history. The prologue was not in the viewed print, however.
The Buccaneer was a remake of DeMille's 1938 Paramount production of the same title, also about Lafitte. In April 1956, Hollywood Reporter stated that DeMille would remake The Buccaneer as the first musical of his career. A June 1956 Hollywood Reporter announced that DeMille was signed Chinese actress Li Li-hua to make her American motion picture debut in the film, which was to be directed by Yul Brynner. In a December 1957 New York Times article, longtime DeMille collaborator, producer-actor Henry Wilcoxon stated that the plans to stage the remake as a musical were abandoned "because it was apparent that we had too good a story to tell." According to modern sources, after Brynner decided not to direct the film because it was going to be a larger production than he wanted to attempt for his directorial debut, DeMille turned to actor Anthony Quinn.
Quinn (1915-2001), who was married to DeMille's daughter Katherine from 1937 to 1965, had never directed a film before, and according to modern sources, recommended that DeMille hire director Budd Boetticher instead, but DeMille insisted that Quinn do it. Quinn, who had played the part of "Beluche" in the 1938 version of The Buccaneer, accepted reluctantly, noting in his autobiography that DeMille chose a first-time director so that he could maintain control over the production. Quinn stated that he hired Abby Mann to rewrite the screenplay that DeMille had given him initially, but that the producer rejected Mann's version as "too dark" and "too political."
According to items in January 1957 Hollywood Reporter's "Rambling Reporter" column, Rita Moreno and Vincent Price were sought for roles in the picture. A studio press release added that four of the boys tested for the role of "Miggs" were Ronnie Sorensen, Bucko Stafford, Louis Lettieri and Duncan Quinn, Anthony and Katherine Quinn's son. Although Hollywood Reporter news items add Hal Rand, May Johnson, Jerry Lucas, Tony Linehan, Angelo Prioli and Ken Hooker to the cast, their appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed. According to a studio press release, director of photographer Loyal Griggs was ill for four days during production and was temporarily replaced by Ellsworth Fredricks. Another press release reported that many of the antiques in the set of Lafitte's home in Barataria were borrowed from DeMille's personal collection. Some stock shots from the earlier film, such as the sinking of the Corinthian, were used in the later picture, according to studio records.
Douglass Dumbrille, Reginald Sheffield and John Hubbard also appeared in DeMille's 1938 version of The Buccaneer, but in different roles. Brynner and Charlton Heston had previously appeared together in DeMille's 1956 production The Ten Commandments. Many reviews of The Buccaneer commented on Brynner's wearing of a brunette wig and mustache, which marked the first time he appeared onscreen with hair instead of his trademark bald pate. According to the pressbook and an October 1958 Hollywood Reporter news item, Mack David added lyrics to one of the film's musical themes, written by composer Elmer Bernstein, to produce the song "Love Song from The Buccaneer (Lover's Gold)." Used to publicize the film, the song was recorded by Mitch Miller and his orchestra and choral group. A modern source reports that Rebecca Morelli served as the film's script supervisor.
In November 1958, Hollywood Reporter announced that Paramount had allocated a budget of $1,200,000 for promotion of The Buccaneer, which marked the "second highest ad-pub budget placed on a film in the history of the company." One of the main focuses of the publicity campaign was a ten-minute theatrical trailer featuring DeMille "in a narration and display of the film's historical highlights." July and December 1958 Hollywood Reporter news items noted that the film's world premiere in New Orleans was a benefit for the Louisiana Landmark Society, which was seeking to purchase the approximately sixty acres where the Battle of New Orleans was fought and preserve it as a national monument.
December 1958 Daily Variety and Hollywood Citizen-News items reported that Henri de Balther Claiborne, the great-grandson of former Louisiana governor William Claiborne, was threatening to sue Paramount and the theater scheduled to host the New Orleans premiere. The plaintiff claimed that the film was a "slanderous misrepresentation" because it depicted a romance between Lafitte and a daughter of Claiborne. In reality, Claiborne's first daughter had died years before the fictional romance could have taken place, while his younger daughter was born in the mid-1810s. [As commented on by several reviews, the film was only loosely historically accurate. For more information about Jean Lafitte, please see the entry for the 1950 Columbia film Last of the Buccaneers in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50.] It has not been determined if de Balther Claiborne did file suit, although the New Orleans premiere was held as scheduled.
Heston had earlier portrayed "Andrew Jackson" in the 1953 Twentieth Century-Fox production The President's Lady (see below). In his autobiography and published journals, Heston wrote that it took over two hours for him to be made up for the role in The Buccaneer, and as filming progressed, he realized that he had mistakenly instructed makeup chief Wally Westmore to age him too much, thereby making Jackson look much older than he had actually been at the Battle of New Orleans. According to Heston's journals, DeMille ordered retakes to be shot in mid-January 1959, which was "the closest he [DeMille] came to involving himelf in the shooting."
Although the last film personally directed by DeMille was the 1956 Paramount release The Ten Commandments, The Buccaneer was the last film on which the noted producer worked before his death in 1959. The picture was also the last of actor Reginald Sheffield and David Ledner, Henry Hull's stand-in; Sheffield and Ledner both died during the picture's production. The Buccaneer marked the screen acting debut of Fran Jeffries and the first onscreen producer credit for Wilcoxon, who had served in an assistant or associate capacity to DeMille on a number of his earlier pictures.
The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design. The Buccaneer, which received fair reviews, was a disappointment to Quinn, who never directed another picture. In his autobiography, Quinn asserted that after he produced a "far more intimate" film than anything DeMille would have done, DeMille, who preferred more epic dimensions, recut the picture completely. Quinn stated that the re-edited film "was nothing like the picture I had shot...the whole feeling was different. The pace I had carefully established was gone, replaced by frenetic jump cuts and wide shots." Quinn summed up his reaction to the released film by saying "I did not like it at all."