Captain Clegg (1962)

As I’m sure I’ve said before, there’s a number of titles on the Top 500 Horror List I’ve been working on whose presence on said list bothers me. Not because they’re bad films necessarily, but because they’re not really what I’d call horror films. Case in point: this tale of late 18th century smugglers, which was rebranded as Night Creatures in the US, presumably to try and sell it as the horror tale it frankly isn’t. (The non-supernatural nature of the Romney Marsh phantoms is never exactly in doubt at any point.) Perfectly good film, though; technically I suppose it was part of that small wave of pirate adventure films Hammer were making in the early to mid 60s, this time based upon Russell Thorndike’s Doctor Syn (which I’ve also seen the 1937 version of with George Arliss), though they couldn’t actually call it that thanks to Disney, who were working on their own version at the same time and had the actual rights to the book… so Peter Cushing plays Parson Blyss instead, the vicar of Romney Marsh, in whose churchyard the notorious pirate of the title lies buried. Except he doesn’t, really, and there are no real prizes for guessing (even if you’re not familiar with the story) just what did happen… Anyway, the good parson overseas a smuggling operation to help the villagers avoid the extortionate taxes of the King’s Revenue; unfortunately they can’t hold out forever, especially not when one of the villagers has ratted on them (for reasons never explained that I can recall) and brought the Revenue men to town… Apparently this version follows the end of the book more faithfully than the 1937 version, which was sad; I liked how Syn basically gets away with it in the older film, and Cushing is obviously having a terrific time as the somewhat two-faced vicar that it’s actually quite sad to see him getting what I suppose actually is justice of a sort at the end. It’s a genial performance in a genial film, which I enjoyed a lot. It’s just not a horror film, however thin you try and spin that description…

Written for the Peter Cushing centennial blogathon at Frankensteinia

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