Captain Anne Providence (Jean Peters) is the fiercest female pirate to ever sail the seven seas, raised by Blackbeard (Thomas Gomez) himself. Though the British Navy have a price on her head, none suspect she is a woman. When Anne scuttles a passenger ship she spares the life of suave navigator Pierre Francois La Rochelle (Louis Jourdan), with whom she slowly falls in love. But Pierre is an agent working for the British and lures her ship, the Sheba Queen, into an ambush. Anne evades capture and in revenge, kidnaps Pierre’s beautiful wife, Molly (Debra Paget), forcing him to set sail in pursuit.
For all its swash, buckle, and daring-do, Anne of the Indies isn’t really a rollicking adventure in the Errol Flynn mode. Master director Jacques Tourneur opts for the brooding, psychosexual undercurrents of his classic film noir and horror movies, rather than the devil may care atmosphere of his earlier swashbuckling romp The Flame and the Arrow (1950). It’s too broody and downbeat to be much fun, but quite interesting nonetheless. “Am I to weep like a woman?” Anne snaps when faced with the bloody aftermath of battle. Having led a pirate’s life since childhood, she sees only bristling buccaneers and weak-willed wenches. The film charts Anne’s journey to reconcile both halves, with Blackbeard the father from whom she must break away to become whole. Gutsy, no-nonsense, Jean Peters is well cast as Anne. She looks like she could lead a gaggle of bloodthirsty cutthroats. However, this being a Fifties movie, a strong-willed woman is apparently stranger to behold than a three-legged cat ice-skating across a frozen pond. “What kind of a woman are you?” is the most common refrain. Anne’s inability to figure that out makes her grow progressively crueller as the story continues. Her stricken conscience (neatly embodied by Herbert Marshall’s rum-swigging Doctor Jameson) prompts much breaking down in tears, while her journey seems almost predestined to end in tragedy.
Despite the Technicolor lustre and Franz Waxman score, this is sweaty and brutal at times. Pirates smash bottles over heads, brawl with bears, and backstab each other in dingy bars and grimy jungles. Pierre is cruelly whipped more than once. There is one jolly, mock-duel between hellcat Anne and Blackbeard, wherein he tweaks her nose and she stomps his foot. Such levity is rare in this movie and the scene actually prefigures Anne’s ironic, final stand. In a nice touch, the more conventionally feminine Molly isn’t portrayed as a drippy damsel in distress. She is resilient, brave and stands up to Anne and the pirates in her own quiet way. The astoundingly gorgeous Debra Paget has long been a personal favourite. A strong leading lady throughout the Fifties and early Sixties, she could have played Anne. Film fans need to beg, borrow or steal a copy of Fritz Lang’s two-part epic The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb (1959) just to see what she can really do.