One of several Italian swashbucklers sharing the same name, the titular Black Pirate is dashing Count Emilio di Roccabruna (Kabir Bedi), an aristocrat-turned-buccaneer out to avenge himself against Van Gould (Mel Ferrer), the man who killed his parents and stole their land. Somewhat atypically for a pirate, he also has a strong social conscience. Whilst liberating a tribe of South American natives from Spanish slave traders, Emilio gains a companion in beautiful tribal witch Yara (Sonja Jeannine). Her mystical powers reveal his brothers have been killed as a result of a rash attempt to ambush Van Gould at the Spanish court. Emilio begins planning a raid on Van Gould’s stronghold, which results in strenuous negotiations with rival pirate captains who aren’t as altruistic as he is, and is aided by Morgan (Angelo Infanti), an ambitious young buccanner out to make a name for himself. In the meantime, a fair duchess named Honor (Carol André) falls into Emilio’s hands and wins his heart until he discovers she is the daughter of his sworn enemy, Van Gould.
Bollywood star Kabir Bedi is among the few Indian actors to have scored success beyond his indiginous film industry. Mainstream film fans know him as the turban-wearing Bond villain in Octopussy (1983) but in Europe his popularity rests with the Sandokan films he made in the late Seventies with former spaghetti western and crime thriller stalwart Sergio Sollima. Sandwiched between the two Sandokan swashbucklers, Il corsair nero - or The Black Pirate - also followed their lead in being based on a series of novels by prolific Italian author Emilio Salgari. Though ignored by critics in his day, Salgari’s adventure yarns were hugely popular throughout Europe and adapted countless times for the screen. Salgari himself penned Cabiria (1914) the first great silent epic in Italian cinema and is widely considered the grandfather of the spaghetti western, the peplum and science fiction genres in Europe, the latter evidenced in Secret of the Sahara (1988) an offbeat extraterrestrials-in-a-lost-city adventure starring Michael York, Ben Kingsley, David Soul and a young Andie MacDowell.
Here Sollima crafts a spirited, mostly likeable yet strangely disjointed romp, torn between the ebullient fun of old-fashioned swaskbucklers and moments of stark, downbeat melodrama that suggests ambitions beyond its grasp. The film carries more dramatic weight than your average pirate movie, but its plot takes some confoundingly curious twists and turns as Sollima continually introduces intriguing new characters (e.g. the terminally ill aristocrat who spares Emilio’s life then asks him to end his; the ambiguous Morgan whose name, in an odd running gag that doesn’t quite work, no-one remembers) then dropping them just as abruptly. There is a strange anti-science/pro-superstition undercurrent running throughout with a medical doctor eager to dissect captive pirates as “interesting specimens” contrasted with the caring, compassionate witch and a hero who willingly pledges his soul to Satan in return for a chance at revenge. Oddly, in spite of Emilio’s benevolence towards the oppressed natives, the film avoids the obvious interracial romance as he spurns the beautiful, spirited Yara for pouty blonde Honor. Even so, when his crew call for her death, Emilio is surprisingly casual about casting Honor adrift on a small raft, leaving fate to decide if she lives or dies!
Dubbed with an amusingly fruity English accent, Kabir Bedi broods charismatically while the supporting performers etch lively characterisations. Sollima ensures the action is suitably grandiose and thrilling, but the offbeat finale wherein the ghosts of Emilio’s brothers prevent him taking revenge, coupled with the deaths of several of the most sympathetic characters and an unlikely suicide, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Italian director who turned in some of the best Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s, as well as notable work in other genres. Made his debut in 1962 with a segment for the bawdy anthology Sex Can Be Difficult, but it was 1966's The Big Gundown that marked Sollima a director of intelligent, morally complex westerns. Face to Face and Run, Man, Run followed in the same vein, while Violent City and Revolver were tough, exciting thrillers. Largely worked in TV in the 80s and 90s.