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Film / Captain Clegg

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Captain Clegg is a 1962 British film produced by Hammer, directed by Peter Graham Scott and starring Peter Cushing, and loosely adapted from Russell Thorndike's novel Doctor Syn. Although Hammer are best known for their horror movies, and this one was even released as Night Creatures in the US, it's not a particularly frightening film, and it doesn't try to be one. Instead it's really more of a lightly Gothic crime thriller, set in the late 1700s.

With The Napoleonic Wars looming, Britain and France have increased their mutual tariffs, which is really too bad for any Englishman who wants fine wine, brandy, or gin. Therefore, the southeast coast quickly becomes a hotbed of smuggling, and the Royal Navy dispatches Captain Collier (Patrick Allan) to that area to investigate the village of Dymchurch, in the supposedly-haunted Romney Marshes. The village is also the burial place of the notorious pirate Captain Nathaniel Clegg, whom Collier had previously chased halfway around the world. The town's sweet-natured vicar, Parson Blyss (Cushing, at his most stork-like) receives the sailors with all friendliness, but is peculiarly unhelpful. The audience quickly learn that Blyss is the chief of the smuggling operation, which also includes the witty village undertaker/carpenter Jeremiah Mipps (the always-delightful Michael Ripper) and aptly-named innkeeper Mr. Rash (Martin Benson). Rash's young ward/waitress, Imogene (the incredibly sexy Yvonne Romain) is in love with Harry Cobtree (a young Oliver Reed), son of the local squire (Derek Francis), and they plan to run away together.

What is the secret of the ghosts in Romney Marshes? How does it relate to the smuggling scheme? And what is the secret of Captain Clegg?

A highly entertaining film, that's what.

This movie provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Name Change: In the novel Doctor Syn, on which the film is based, the central character is named — well, Doctor Syn. This film changes this to "Doctor Blyss" to avoid legal issues with Disney, who were producing their own adaptation of the story.
  • Adapted Out: Rather oddly, Syn's "Scarecrow" Secret Identity, one of the best-known features of the source novels, largely disappears in the film. Blyss and his followers ride around dressed as scary "marsh phantoms", and one of the gang stands around disguised as a scarecrow and so hidden in plain sight as their lookout, but the idea of the Scarecrow as the formidable leader of the smugglers is never even mentioned.
  • Answer Cut: A subtle one. When Blyss is revealing how he survived being hanged as a pirate, he mentions that the hangman was actually one of his own crew and helped him fake his death. As he's speaking, the camera cuts to Mipps, who nods slightly, suggesting that he was the hangman in question.
  • Character Title: But with a twist.
  • Chandelier Swing: Used as a means of escape. But interrupted by a bullet.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Oliver Reed gave himself a bullet wound in his arm while shaving. Also the death of Tom Ketch, who - according to the town doctor - died of fright, which is technically accurate.
  • Dead Guy Junior: Is Imogene named after a ship?
  • Deadpan Snarker: Blyss and Mipps. Blyss manages to do the whole thing with so innocent a smile that you're never sure if he's being deliberately snarky or not.
  • Deliberately Cute Child: Averted with the stable lad at Rash's inn, who might qualify as Ugly Cute if he's lucky, and says he wants to be a hangman when he grows up.
  • Doomed Appointment: Collier comes to town to meet with a man named Tom Ketch, who tipped him off about the smugglers. Ketch dies in the opening scene.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: "Clegg was bad, but he was never a coward or a traitor."
  • Final Speech: Blyss makes a big speech from the church pulpit — albeit largely in an attempt to generate cover for his escape bid.
  • A Good Name for a Rock Band: There now exists a psychobilly band called Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures.
  • Grey-and-Grey Morality: The smugglers are willing to murder a man who threatens to expose their operation, but Collier can be a real Jerkass, too, exercising the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique. For most of the movie, you don't know which side you're supposed to support.
  • Idyllic English Village: A movie about crime, secrets, and possible ghost activity set in the seemingly-idyllic southeastern town of Dymchurch in 1792.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Rash, and later, Clegg, thanks to the mulatto's Javelin Thrower habits — though less gorily or comprehensively than some cinematic instances of the trope, presumably because effects budgets wouldn't run that far or more horrific effects would have made this less of a family film. A bit out of character for Hammer Studios, who were normally very happy to sling around all the Kensington Gore they could get their hands on in the horror films for which they were better-known.
  • Javelin Thrower: The mulatto tends to attack people by throwing spears at them (which fits with some rather unfortunate Values Dissonance in the depiction of the character).
  • Let's Get Dangerous!: Blyss/Clegg is a severe badass when the need arises.
  • Lovable Rogue: All the smugglers. Except Rash.
  • Lost Wedding Ring: When Imogene and Harry are married at the end, the ceremony briefly falters for lack of a wedding ring, but Mipps produces one taken from a tapestry hanging. It's an oddly sweet romantic-comedy moment in the climax of a swashbuckling adventure movie.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Imogene is Clegg's daughter.
  • The Man They Couldn't Hang: Clegg faked his own death. The hangman was one of his guys, implicitly Mipps. But he still has a big old scar.
  • Meaningful Name: Rash and Blyss.
  • Nightmare Fuel Station Attendant: The stable lad.
    Lad: [looking at a sailor's tattoo] I know how to tie that knot!
    Sailor: You want to be a sailor when you grow up?
    Lad: No, sir! I want to be hangman! String 'em up! And cut 'em down!
  • Non-Indicative Name: The film was released as Night Creatures in some places because Hammer had promised its American distributor a movie of that title. The original plan was to do yet another adaptation of the novel I Am Legend under that name, which fell through after finding out that their original plan would probably be banned in Britain.
  • No Name Given: “The mulatto”. Justified, because he can't talk to tell people his real name: he had his tongue cut out by Captain Clegg for treason (specifically, attacking Mrs. Clegg). Also Collier's unnamed boatswain, who serves as a sort of Recurring Extra type character.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted, as Collier's boatswain observes: both the local barmaid and Clegg's pirate ship are given the fairly uncommon name of "Imogene". Although he doesn't realize the significance of this...
  • Our Lawyers Advised This Trope: See Adaptation Name Change; Disney owned the name "Doctor Syn" at this point. Still, it's hard to disguise that Parson Blyss is in fact the Reverend Doctor Syn, under an alias (appropriately enough).
  • Pietà Plagiarism: The final scene of the movie.
  • Psycho for Hire: Rash, probably the only truly evil person in the movie.
  • Recruiting the Criminal: Collier and his crew first encountered "the mulatto" as the mutilated victim of of Captain Clegg's punishment, and presumably guessed that he had been one of Clegg's crew. But rather than either arresting and trying him as a pirate, or deciding that the mutilation was punishment enough and letting him go, they have taken to carting him around with them, chained up, as a sort of human bloodhound.
  • The Reveal: Generally averted, as the film prefers to more subtly let us figure out that Blyss and Clegg are the same person.
  • Revealing Injury: After Collier shoots the scarecrow, he's on the lookout for a man with a wounded arm, leading to this exchange:
    Collier: "Why did you flinch when I took your arm?"
    Dr. Blyss: "Oh, it wasn't my arm, Captain. You trod on my foot."
  • Scary Scarecrows: Used as lookouts by the smugglers. Nevertheless, there's something creepy about Oliver Reed's icy blue eyes looking out of a scarecrow's mask.
  • Sidekick: Mipps, to Blyss. To a lesser extent, Collier's boatswain.
  • Sinister Minister: Parson Blyss smuggles liquor... ...but donates the proceeds to charity. Still, he can be quite menacing when he needs to be.
  • "Scooby-Doo" Hoax: The supernatural-looking "marsh phantoms" are just cover for a smuggling racket.
  • Shout-Out: One of the sailors is named Smee.
  • The Speechless: The mulatto. Clegg cut the man's tongue out, split his ears, and left him to die on some island, before Collier found him. Although it's hard to feel too sorry for him, considering that he "attacked" Clegg's wife, causing her to die in childbirth.
  • Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Collier is determined and ruthless in enforcing the law. To have a chance of catching Clegg, he needs to be this focused.
  • Taking the Bullet: Clegg jumps in front of a spear to save Mipps.
  • That Man Is Dead: Blyss/Clegg eventually says in a big speech that the pirate Clegg truly died on the gallows; he has truly become the good-hearted (though not exactly saintly) vicar.
  • Undying Loyalty: Both Mipps and Harry are unwilling to betray Blyss under any circumstances.
  • What a Senseless Waste of Human Life: A subtle example, as Collier finally takes off his hat when Clegg is killed.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Yvonne Romain was in fact British, but her looks often got her cast in “exotic” foreign roles — which may explain the accent she sometimes slips into here while playing a village barmaid brought up in the English countryside from infancy.
  • Wife Husbandry: Imogene has been Rash's ward since she was a little kid. Think about that when he tries to grope her.
  • Worthy Opponent: Blyss and Collier, to each other — though they perhaps don't respect each other enough. While Collier at least acknowledges Clegg's courage and honour, Blyss deliberately reminds him that he never caught Clegg, allows himself some private grins when he puts one over on Collier, and pulls a series of tricks and stunts that put his gang at risk and ultimately enable the methodical Collier to deduce the truth.

Alternative Title(s): Night Creatures