After the death of her father, the viceroy of the Isle of East Verde in the Caribbean, Princess Isabella (Anabella Incontrera) faces invasion from her scheming cousin the Duke of Bart. Luckily, a band of heroic pirates led by the dashing Alan Drake (Dean Reed) are shipwrecked on the island and pledge their support in return for a handsome reward. Not that they receive the warmest welcome at first. The princess’ courtiers snootily dismiss the colourful crew, including deaf acrobat Aranja (Sal Borgese), feisty female swashbuckler Margarita (Paca Galbadón), magician Gregor, strongman Dooby, and little cabin boy Tom, as “filthy clowns from a circus.” Meanwhile, Princess Isabella herself is less than amused when Drake spurns her romantic advances. Nevertheless, the plucky pirates set sail to retrieve the stolen contract detailing Isabella’s right to rule and the treasure the Duke plans to use to fund his armada. At the last minute, Gregor brings an extra passenger onboard, a mysterious blonde woman who looks awfully familiar…
Though Hollywood had almost given up making swashbuckling adventure films by the early Seventies, the genre was still popular across Europe resulting in lively low-budget romps like The Corsairs. Italian filmmakers seemed particularly fond of movies wherein teams of acrobats, jugglers and other circus performers pull off some caper or other, resulting in unique hybrids with the superhero, spaghetti western, crime and even war genres. Here, Sal Borgese is cast as a deaf gymnast as opposed to the mute acrobat character he usually played in Three Fantastic Supermen (1967) and its many sequels, while the flamboyant Gregor wields an array of gadgets like gas-spurting gloves. It is a zany, fast-paced comic strip movie, like so many Italian productions made around this period.
Although the plot manages the dual feat of being convoluted and one-dimensional, The Corsairs surfs on a wave of good-natured bonhomie, abetted by a lively cast of colourful eccentrics and likeable turns from stars Dean Reed and Anabella Incontrera. In a novel twist, it is the outwardly haughty princess that pursues the pirate, repeatedly trying to get him into bed by donning an array of disguises that the otherwise smart Captain Drake somehow fails to see through. Often cast as slinky lipstick lesbians in such giallo horror-thrillers as The Case of the Bloody Iris (1971) and Crimes of the Black Cat (1972), Incontrera makes a nicely offbeat heroine and flashes her shapely legs during a spirited gypsy dance number.
Leading man Dean Reed is a fascinating cult film figure. An American singer-songwriter who was more popular in South America and Eastern Europe than in his native land. Reed’s left-leaning politics led to him emigrating to East Germany where he starred in a number of films. He penned screenplays for Blood Brothers (1975) - a western that upheld Native American rights - and the popular TV series The Singer (1978), and also wrote, directed and composed music for Sing, Cowboy, Sing (1981), a Marxist musical western aimed at children. Though some of his political views seemed naïve, like his defence of the Berlin wall and support of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Reed became a noted pacifist and outspoken campaigner until his suspicious death by drowning in 1986, which some claim was suicide and others maintain was murder. His life was the subject of several documentaries, including The Red Elvis (2007), while Tom Hanks is rumoured to be developing a biopic.
One winning aspect of The Corsairs that may have appealed to Reed is its spirit of inclusiveness. In contrast to the stuffy, self-involved aristocrats, the pirates are a warm, caring family, happily comprised of different races and sexes. They also welcome a pair of dwarfs into the group, not as crass comic relief sidekicks, but as steadfast, capable heroes in their own right. Heck, even young Tom gets to shoot guns and swig alcohol, though parents may justifiably balk at such antics. Ferdinando Baldi, better known for his many spaghetti westerns that range from the good (Texas Adios (1966)), the bad (Blindman (1971)) and the bizarre (Get Mean (1975)), keeps the knockabout brawls and swordfights coming, most of which are performed by the ever-athletic Borgese. There are likeable gags including sexist Dooby losing an arm-wrestling match to a barmaid, a punch-up between two dwarfs who discover they are long-lost brothers, and a silly bit where Blackie serenades his friends that inexplicably turns into a full-on Phil Spector production. Also fun is the bouncy score by Nico Fidenco that gives the pirates an excuse to strut heroically.