Frenchman's Creek (1944):

Harlequin romance as queer-eyed spectacle, courtesy of Daphne Du Maurier by way of Mitchell Leisen. Unashamedly a suburban housewife's afternoon fantasy transplanted to 17th-century England, with maybe a mock-confession of the director's decorum fixation at the start -- Technicolor garishness reigns supreme at a masked ball, bright yellow costumes, cascading brown perukes, and plumes on a red-and-white checkered floor. Milady Joan Fontaine's had it with husband Ralph Forbes, an overstuffed baron, so she packs her things and takes off from London to Cornwall with her kids for fresh air and adventure. A French pirate (Arturo de Córdova) is hanging around the shores, people whisper, making off with riches both monetary and physical: "Oh, so he's that kind of a pirate," Fontaine says to Nigel Bruce, but she can't wait to be abducted. She is to meet the rogue soon enough, so aboard the galley de Córdova reveals himself the sensitive artist, "a rebel and an outcast" sketching with charcoal but able to take over an enemy vessel if the mood strikes him. Is there room for milady in the crew of swarthy guys with bare torsos? "It's too bad you're not a boy," de Córdova sighs to his beloved -- cabin-boy breaches, cap, and puffy shirt solve the problem, and Fontaine hits the deck with dream lover and, in a bit of Freudian residue left over from Lady in the Dark, gropes the ship's steering ram. The holiday is over, however, and she has to return home, where not only Forbes awaits, but also sinister Basil Rathbone, with plans of his own for her. Florid romanticism and kitschy dash for Leisen, thus Fontaine's lush close-up is tweaked by a seasickness gag; still, escape isn't gender-equal in 1669, and the heroine can crush her nemesis with a suit of armor but must remain away from the misty, purple seas, corseted by society, or is it, Leisen asks, by her emotional ties, too precious to sever? With Cecil Kellaway, Moyna MacGill, David James, and Billy Daniels.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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