Movies Till Dawn: The Saturday Morning Strange – “Captain Applejack” (1931)

Ahoy! Possible spoiler alerts ahead!

Adventure comes knocking – quite literally – for sheltered British scion Ambrose Applejack (John Halliday, “The Philadelphia Story”) when a quartet of unusual visitors descends on his ancestral home. As a storm of apocalyptic proportions rages outside, Applejack is imposed upon by a sultry Russian countess (Kay Strozzi), a swami (Otto Hoffman) and his swooning spouse (Julia Swayne Gordon), and finally, a Slavic spy (Edmund Arthur Carewe, from the 1925 “Phantom of the Opera”) with alleged designs on jewelry stolen by Strozzi. Ambrose fends off Strozzi’s amorous advances and Carewe’s threats, and in the process, finds the real reason for their intrusion: a hidden pirate map drawn by his ancestor, Captain Applejack. The discovery prompts Ambrose to slip into a reverie, wherein he imagines himself as the Applejack, who sends one captive to his death (the plank), molests another (and cue the Production Code), and plays cards with his mutinous crew for the right to future molestation as evidence of his roguish charm. The daydream appears to not only give Ambrose the cojones necessary to rout the scheming quartet, but also declare his love for his wide-eyed ward (Mary Brian). Based on the 1921 Broadway play of the same name (and filmed previously as the silent “Strangers in the Night,” 1923), director Hobart Henley‘s “Captain Applejack” lists wildly from amusing (Strozzi and Carewe’s outrageous accents, which suggest Boris and Natasha‘s grandparents – and why Carewe was once considered to play Dracula) to completely crackers and/or unpleasant (that pirate fantasy, despite Halliday’s very funny spoof of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.). Warner Archives’ fullframe DVD-R offers impressive sound and image for a picture of this vintage.

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About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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