Cast & Crew
In the 1700s in Scotland, the Stuart forces are trying to regain the English throne. Lord Durrisdeer decides to send one of his sons to fight with the Stuarts and keep the other loyal to the ruling king at home. Jamie Durrisdeer, the older son and heir to Ballantrae castle, who loves adventure and gambling, tosses a coin to decide which son will stay at home. Jamie loses, but pleased with the outcome, takes leave of his home and fiancée, Lady Alison, who is the ward of Durrisdeer, and fights for Scotland. However, he becomes a fugitive when the rebellion fails. After joining with an Irishman, Col. Francis Burke, who is also a veteran of the Scottish side of the rebellion, Jamie secretly returns to Ballantrae to get money to go to France. While hiding from the Redcoats at the house of his mistress, Jessie Brown, he sends for his brother Henry. In spite of his philandering, Alison is the love of Jamie's life. He kisses her passionately when she arrives and Jessie feels hurt. Henry and Jamie then make plans to rendezvous later at the beach, where Henry will give Jamie the money. Once there, however, Jamie finds Redcoats waiting for him. Maj. Clarendon fires at him and Jamie falls to the sea. As his body is not found, Clarendon informs the Durrisdeer household that he is dead. Later, however, when Henry goes to search for Jamie's body, he finds Jamie waiting for him in the stable. The wounded Jamie accuses Henry of betraying him, so that he can have Ballantrae and Alison for himself. Although Henry admits that he is attracted to Alison and that Jamie's gambling and wildness are a constant embarrassment, as well as a drain on household finances, he denies that he informed the Redcoats of their plan. Jamie provokes a duel, and although he is the better sportsman, in his weakened condition, he is injured. While Henry goes for help, Burke comes for Jamie and takes him away, leaving Henry mystified at his disappearance. Jamie and Burke pay a pirate ship to take them to France, but the cruel captain, MacCauley, takes their money and heads with them for Tartugas. After five months of labor at sea, they encounter a second ship, captained by a French dandy, Arnaud. When Arnaud's men attack and board, Jamie fights MacCauley, which amuses Arnaud, who allows Jamie and Burke to live. Jamie and Arnaud form a partnership, although Arnaud is secretly planning to double-cross Jamie when he is no longer useful. Docking at Tartugas, they encounter a galleon full of riches that was seized by Capt. Mendoza. With the help of Burke and Mendoza's dancing girl Marianne, who is attracted to Jamie, they make plans to take the ship for themselves. After a fight, they succeed in taking the galleon, but then Arnaud tries to shoot Jamie. However, Jamie has anticipated Arnaud's behavior and has unloaded the gun, so the two solve the matter with swords. After Jamie kills Arnaud, Jamie and Burke take command of the galleon and return to Scotland as rich men. Posing as English gentlemen, they are able to pass through the checkpoints of Redcoats, who still consider them rebels. In Ballantrae, they find Redcoats friendly with his family and learn that Henry and Alison are betrothed. Still believing that Henry betrayed him that night on the beach and has now stolen Alison, Jamie breaks his cover and challenges Henry to a duel. However, a fight ensues with the Redcoats, and although Henry saves Jamie's life, Jamie and Burke are captured, tried, and sentenced to hang the next morning. During the night, Jessie, wracked with guilt, confesses to Alison that she betrayed Jamie that night because of jealousy, and together they make plans to free Jamie and Burke. Alison gives Jamie the Durrisdeer betrothal ring bearing the family motto, which is a signal that their escape is imminent. Later, Jessie shows up with food at the room where they are held, distracts the guard and unlocks the door. Jamie and Burke fight their way to the castle hall, and after saying farewell, escape through a secret doorway through the fireplace to a tunnel. Henry waits with horses and instructionsat the end of the tunnel, and Jamie tells him about the jewels from the galleon, which are hidden in the stable, and with which Henry will be able to pay off Jamie's gambling debts. After riding to the smuggler's cave, Jamie and Burke find Alison waiting to accompany them. Planning to start again in the New World, the three ride away.
Francis De Wolff
The Master of Ballantrae
Keighley had been around for years and had directed some of James Cagney's most popular vehicles, including Each Dawn I Die (1939) and The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941). Now, with The Master of Ballantrae he was heading into retirement and, like Flynn, wanted to enjoy the last one out. It would, indeed, be his last movie, after which he would enjoy over thirty years of retirement. And in this last effort he had a pair of leads that any director would be happy with: Flynn, of course, and the great Roger Livesey. The three worked together splendidly and the production was surprisingly trouble-free.
The story takes place in 1745 as Jamie Durie, the Master of Ballantrae (Errol Flynn), joins the Jacobite uprising to return the Stuarts to the throne of England. He makes a deal with his younger brother, Henry (Anthony Steel), that one of them will join the uprising while the other will remain loyal to the King, thus insuring that they keep their land and wealth no matter what the outcome. After a coin toss, Jamie joins the uprising. The revolt is defeated but Jamie joins forces with Irish adventurer Colonel Francis Burke (Roger Livesey) and the two set sail and eventually take to pirating before returning home. The story employs a few twists and turns of plot before settling on an ending that, admirably for an adventure movie starring Errol Flynn, sends our heroes off with a shadow of doubt hanging over their future.
During the filming, Keighley gave Flynn more latitude than usually afforded a lead actor, even if said actor was a Hollywood star. Flynn took part in almost no rehearsals and Keighley didn't bother telling him to show up. He had worked with Flynn before and knew all too well that once Flynn got before the camera, everything would go smoothly. His romantic lead, Beatrice Campbell, wasn't aware of this and spent many a rehearsal fretting over how their scenes would play together.
For one scene in The Master of Ballantrae, the two would dance a gavotte and, despite precise steps and blocking necessary to perform the dance, Errol wasn't present at a single rehearsal. Still, Keighley showed no sign of concern. When the day came to finally film the dance, Campbell was sure it would be a disaster. In fact, it seemed confirmed when Errol simply grabbed her and performed a few steps he improvised on the spot. Once completed, however, it looked great. Campbell said, "He had an amazing knack of making something look good on camera that he hadn't worked out at all."
Campbell also noted how Flynn put his character first, above all others in the film but that, somehow, it never came off as selfish. During one scene, again rehearsed without Flynn, both Campbell and Flynn would conclude their conversation by parting in separate directions with the camera following Campbell, his character's true love. The scene went well but Flynn thought the camera should follow him. Campbell said it worked and defended Flynn's choice by saying, "It wasn't selfishness... Everything in The Master of Ballantrae had to build up and support Flynn. He was clever enough to know that he mustn't give an inch, or he would lose that mile that made him a star."
Upon its release, The Master of Ballantrae was met with some of the finest notices of Flynn's career. The New York Times wrote, "Mr. Flynn is, in turn, bold, roguish and forgiveably [sic] self-satisfied in his best Swashbuckler since The Sea Hawk , thirteen long years ago."
An interesting side note to the film: Bob Anderson, who would spend over fifty years training actors to swordfight on film, and perform the light-saber duels of Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Return of the Jedi (1983), worked with Flynn and the other actors on the film for the swordplay to be filmed. At one point, Anderson accidentally plunged his saber point into Flynn's thigh but there was no indignant fuming from Flynn. In fact, he told everyone it was his fault and he and Anderson soon became friends.
Such was the legacy of Errol Flynn, a man of which it could truly be said, lived hard and died young. Barely making it to the half-century mark, Flynn was dead from heart failure a mere six years after the release of The Master of Ballantrae at the age of 50. But his legacy was that of a friend, a story-teller, an actor and an entertainer. Casts and crews enjoyed working with him and in The Master of Ballantrae, the friendly rapport between the star, Roger Livesey and Beatrice Campbell is evident on the screen in what would be Flynn's last great swashbuckler.
Director: William Keighley
Screenplay: Herb Meadow (screenplay); Harold Medford (additional dialogue); Robert Louis Stevenson (novel, uncredited)
Cinematography: Jack Cardiff
Art Direction: Ralph Brinton
Music: William Alwyn
Film Editing: Jack Harris
Cast: Errol Flynn (Jamie Durie), Roger Livesey (Col. Francis Burke), Anthony Steel (Henry Durie), Beatrice Campbell (Lady Alison), Yvonne Furneaux (Jessie Brown), Felix Aylmer (Lord Durrisdeer), Mervyn Johns (MacKellar), Charles Goldner (Mendoza), Ralph Truman (Maj. Clarendon), Francis de Wolff (Matthew Bull).
by Greg Ferrara
Errol Flynn: The Untold Story, Charles Wigham
The Complete Films of Errol Flynn, Tony Thomas, Rudy Behlmer, Clifford McCarty
The New York Times, "En Garde! The Master Who Puts the Swords in the Hands of the Stars," Richard Cohen, December 29, 2001
The Master of Ballantrae
The working title of the film was The Sea Rogue. Opening title cards read "Robert Louis Stevenson's The Master of Ballantrae." Voice-over narration after the credits explains that, in the year 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie came to Scotland calling for help to expel King George of the House of Hannover and restore the House of Stuart to the throne. According to a September 1950 Variety news item, the production was filmed in England using frozen assets. July 1952 Hollywood Reporter news items add the following actors to the cast: William O'Neil, Kenneth Smith, Ray John, Joe Dillon, Charles Hammond, Manning Michael, Charles Carson and Gordon Scott. Their appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. According to a modern source, Patrick Crean served as fencing master for the film. According to an August 1952 Hollywood Reporter news item, portions of the film were shot in Cornwall, the Scottish highlands and Castle Eilean Donan near Dornie, Scotland, as well as at the Sicilian port of Palermo.