Last of the Buccaneers
Friday June, 27 2014 at 04:30 AM
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It was all too fitting that trouble with the authorities drove Paul Henreid to a life of piracy - at least on the silver screen. The Casablanca (1942) star had run afoul in 1947 of the specific subcommittee of the House Un-American Activities Committee tasked to ferret out alleged Communist party influence on Hollywood. In October of that year, Henreid joined a coterie of progressive industry notables on a protest pilgrimage to Washington and The White House, where they intended to challenge the burgeoning nationalist vogue for red-baiting. Though the Committee for the First Amendment - whose number also included Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, Richard Conte, Danny Kaye, Gene Kelly, Sterling Hayden, and writer-director John Huston - set off from Los Angeles with the seeming support of Hollywood and the Fourth Estate, public opinion turned against them after they confronted subcommittee chairman J. Parnell Thomas over his persecution of The Hollywood Ten - writers and directors branded as Communists and facing criminal prosecution for refusing to cooperate with HUAC. President Harry Truman canceled a scheduled luncheon with the Committee and columnists nationwide began condemning them as "dupes and fellow travelers."
Among the first to recant his Committee affiliation was Bogart, then pushing fifty and fearful of the deleterious effect of scandal on his career. (Though not part of the Committee, Hollywood liberals John Garfield and Edward G. Robinson would, also under pressure from HUAC, take a tip from Bogie and proclaim publically to have been duped by the Reds.) Unwilling to retract his assertion that no one should be coerced into declaring political allegiance by government fiat, Henreid was blacklisted as a purported Communist sympathizer- though it took him a year to learn that he had been barred from studio employment. (Henreid was also named by friendly HUAC witness Adolphe Menjou as "an associate" of Hollywood union leader Herbert Sorrell, a suspected party member.) Unlike his fellows on the Committee, who were represented and protected by their studios, Henreid had gone independent, breaking his Warner Brothers contract to star in Song of Love (1947) at MGM and the Eagle Lion release Hollow Triumph (1948). Back in Hollywood, no offers of work were forthcoming and a proposed TV series in which Henreid was to star for producer Desi Arnaz evaporated. Concerned friends in the industry, led by director William Dieterle, wrangled Henreid a supporting role in the desert actioner Rope of Sand (1949) but after that the actor was on his own.
Henreid's salvation was the European market, in which he remained a viable commercial entity. After completing the independently-produced social drama So Young So Bad (1950) in New York, Henreid traveled abroad to take the lead in the comedy Pardon My French (1951) and make two films for Hammer Film Productions -- Stolen Face (1952) and Man in Hiding (1953), both directed by Terence Fisher. During this time, Henreid also entered into a profit-sharing arrangement with Columbia Pictures, via independent producer Sam Katzman, starring in the swashbuckler Last of the Buccaneers (1950). Because Katzman operated outside of the studio prevue (albeit using its resources), Henreid was able to evade the blacklist. Though his salary was a fraction of what it had been only a year earlier, his share in the profits made the gamble pay off handsomely. Receipts were so good for Last of the Buccaneers that studio president Harry Cohn attempted to weasel out of the profit-sharing deal by offering Henreid a flat payment. When Henreid and his agent, Ingo Preminger, refused to renegotiate, Cohn simply signed the actor up for more of the same - a starring role in Pirates of Tripoli (1955).
Henreid's native suavity made him a natural to play Jean Lafitte, the French privateer who came to America's aid during the 1814 Battle of New Orleans. Clearly corrupt but undeniably courageous, Lafitte inspired Lord Byron's "The Corsair" and was the hero of Rupert Julian's silent swashbuckler The Millionaire Pirate (1919). Lafitte was the focus as well of Cecil B. DeMille's The Buccaneer (1938) - whose star, Fredric March, had traveled from New York to join the Committee for the First Amendment in October 1947 and, like Henreid, was blacklisted for his troubles. Cast in a supporting role in Last of the Buccaneers was veteran character actor John Dehner, who went on to have his own crack at playing Lafitte (or someone claiming to be him) in the 1964 Bonanza episode "The Gentleman from New Orleans." For Paul Henreid, the blacklist endured for five years. His star wattage having dimmed by 1952, he turned to directing, helming episodes of such popular series as Maverick, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and The Big Valley, while contributing cameos to such films as Operation Crossbow (1965) and Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977).
By Richard Harland Smith
Sources: Ladies Man: An Autobiography by Paul Henreid, with Julius Fast (St. Martin's Press, 1984)
Bogart by A. M. Sperber and Eric Lax (William Morrow and Company, 1997)
Hollywood's Blacklists: A Political and Cultural History by Reynold Humphries (Edinburgh University Press, 2010) VIEW TCMDb ENTRY