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August 08, 2008

Anne of the Indies

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Jacques Tourneur - 1951
Resen Entertainment Region 2 DVD

For this date of 8/8/08 I thought of pieces of eight which of course made me think of pirates. Anne of the Indies is a reminder that Hollywood could occasionally make a good action film starring a woman, even during a supposedly more benighted era. It's too bad that this film is only available as an import DVD at this time as I would think there would be many girls who would delight in seeing Jean Peters take on some big, burly men, with her sword.

Inspired by the real life Anne Bonny, Anne of the Indies is in part a film about family. Taking the name of Anne Providence, the title character seeks revenge against the British for the death of her brother. The pirate known as Blackbeard has served as her surrogate father. The man she falls in love with is secretly married. A search for treasure evolves into the breaking of trust, loss of alliances, and the self-destruction of Anne.

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While Anne of the Indies has some of the trappings of a traditional pirate film with the sword fights, rum drinking, and ship battles, it fits in with Tourneur's films thematically. As pretty as this film is in ripe technicolor, Anne, like other Tourneur protagonists, descends into her own kind of madness. In several Tourneur films, the narrative is of a character who begins with a relatively stable sense of the world and their place in that world, only to find that they are overcome by circumstances that challenge that reality. The protagonist either finds their way out of an impossible situation, often a trap of some kind, or dies, surrendering to that new reality.

In this film, Jean Peters allows herself to be undone, making herself vulnerable to the charms of Louis Jourdan. The film for a time seems to endorse Peters' temporary discarding of male clothing, and her temporary discarding of her authority as ship captain, suggesting that all that was needed was the more genteel Jourdan to bring out Peters' femininity. As it turns out, Jourdan is married to the more feminine, and traditionally prettier, Debra Paget. Tourneur is ambiguous regarding Jean Peters' character, so that she defies a traditional interpretation. In some ways Peters character is like that of Simone Simon in The Cat People in that they can be defined as going against nature from one perspective, yet from the point of view of the character, it is that non-conforming nature that is their survival mechanism. The film suggests female vulnerability with the first sea battle described by the British captain as a frontal attack, and with the first close-ups of Peters showing her removing her jacket to reveal bleeding to her doctor, played by Herbert Marshall. In a scene where Anne tries on a lace dress, she finds herself both tied up and confined, the dress representing how women are ideally seen by men. With Anne demonstrating her skill with gun and sword equal, if not better, than the other men, the film invites a more thorough, and feminist reading. The use of water as a metaphor for the female is a component of the films ending, with Anne alone at sea, about to be engulfed by the feminine. Yet the final, brief image, is of Anne triumphant in spirit, if not in body.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 8, 2008 12:41 AM


"Tourneur is ambiguous regarding Jean Peters' character..."

Tourneur is ambiguous regarding everything, no? It's an essential part of his unique flavor.

And speaking of Tourneur, Ryland Walker Knight just published a piece re OUT OF THE PAST and NIGHTFALL (link below), and yes, he does use the word "ambiguity."


Posted by: c. jerry kutner at August 12, 2008 04:49 PM

I unambiguously concede to you on this point with the exception of Tourneur's stated favorite, Stars in my Crown.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at August 12, 2008 08:28 PM

your site is getting better )

Posted by: Pavliga at August 20, 2008 11:18 AM

First glimpse of Anne in her pantaloons replete with male fly sets the tone for this meditation on Janus faced Animus/Anima dialectics. Peters in other films exibits a flinty female hood while Paget revels in marmoreal feminity. This is particularly evident in the Court Dress. Peters needs a male hand to enclose her in thw brocaded exo-skeleton while Paget easily slips in and out of natural carapace be it in the Captain's cabin or on exibition in the local slave market. By the way did any one notice the gentility of the Arab customers? Sure is out of step with the ever popular Orientalism!!!!

Posted by: john at July 5, 2009 02:53 PM