Setting sail with some scalawags - R.H. Joseph

Heave to and moor up along side, matey, for I've a tale to tell that'll shiver yer timbers.

Once upon a time, when men were men and derring-do was done with dash, swords glinted, eyes twinkled, blood dripped and curses caused blackguards to cry "Curses!"

Verily, those that know the Seven Seas like the softness of their sweet mother's hands have heard tell of The Flying Dutchman. In 1641 Captain Hendrik van der Decken was sailing his ship around the Cape of Storms when his violent and unpredictable mistress, the sea, took him to her bosom one last time. Before succumbing to this deadly embrace the captain vowed he would continue to sail until he met the ends of the earth.

To this day squinty-eyed old salts see him on the horizon at the helm of his ship, forlorn, yearning. None, be they landlubber or seaman, dare speak of such things, however, fearing the very mention of The Dutchman would bring upon themselves such calamities as cause grown men to tremble.

There is one man, however, the bravest of men, Captain Gore Verbinski, who quivers not when confronted with such matters. Hence he has taken it upon himself to tell another tale of the sea so harrowing, so bedeviled, that only the most stouthearted among you dare lend an ear.

It too is an account of a cursed ship, the Black Pearl, condemned to sail until the gods whom its crew offended have drunk their fill from the cup of retribution. Arrgh!

Verbinski can spin a yarn as resplendent as a Madagascar sunset, as flamboyant as a Bird of Paradise, and as thunderous as icebergs calving off the Antarctic Peninsula.

Time was when Capt. Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) commanded the Black Pearl. Though a pirate through and through, Sparrow lived by the pirate's code (a guideline, really) and expected his crew of thieves to do the same.

A louche lot, unpredictable as a Norwegian maelstrom, it did not take these scoundrels, rascals, and knaves long to maroon Sparrow once he told them the location of the accursed chest of Aztec gold. Now he has but one goal: to reclaim that which is rightfully his, the Black Pearl, from the leader of this rag-tag collection of brutes.

Tale-teller that he is, Verbinski takes time to render every delicious physical detail of the wretches: a filthiness of body even swine would repudiate, teeth so rotten mice could establish residence in their putrefied chambers, and begrimed fingernails of such disrepair shattered glass provides a smoother caress.

Attentive to the way such brigands communicate, Verbinski has ensured those who have known the pain of fingers frozen to the mast during passage 'round the Horn will revel in speech patterns common to the grog-soaked back alleys of Port Royal and the Dry Tortugas in the days when strumpets sold their favors for a farthing.

Exemplifying the worst of this sort, the very man, in fact, responsible for the mutiny aboard the Black Pearl, is her new captain, Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush). Not since the days of Captain Blood (Errol Flynn) and Long John Silver (Wallace Beery) have men such as Sparrow and Barbossa preyed upon the merchant ships of the Caribbean.

But as sure as there are pirates, there are ships of the Crown sent to protect the innocent. And as sure as there are trading ports there are island governors, representatives of the Crown, and their lovely daughters.

While Governor Weatherby Swann (Jonathan Pryce) would have his daughter wed to Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport), Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) still feels affection for Will Turner (Orlando Bloom).

Turner, a blacksmith of considerable accomplishment, was found adrift at sea when the Governor and young Elizabeth first came to the island and though she is above his station, the electricity (had there been electricity) between Will and Elizabeth is palpable.

How shall Will prove his worth to himself and to the Governor? How will Capt. Sparrow regain command of the Black Pearl? How will Capt. Barbossa rid himself and his crew of the curse that renders them phantoms in moonlight? What blood runs in Will's veins and what is this secret that only Capt. Sparrow knows?

One thing's for sure, Will's a firebrand; he lacks the patience and regimentation to pursue Elizabeth in the manner insisted upon by the Commodore when she is abducted by Barbossa.

Despite himself Will realizes his only chance to free his lady fair is to team up with the wild-eyed Sparrow. Can these two work together toward a common goal? Can they trust each other?

And what of Elizabeth? Time was when a refined young lady such as she was little more than a gaily decorated accessory in a man's world. Not our sweet Elizabeth!

The way Verbinski tells the story the bodices of her day may crush her abdomen but a band of sea-faring brigands can never crush her spirit.

She's a fighter, our Elizabeth, and a thinker too. When it comes to innovative naval tactics Horatio Hornblower himself can learn a thing or two from the stout-hearted lass.

Aye, it's been long as the lifetime of a Galapagos tortoise since a pirate tale as thrilling and completely enjoyable as "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl" has been told. Makes me want to cast off with the next tide and set sail for the Spanish Main.

Celluloid memories: If it's swashbuckling pirates ye seek, matey, start with Wallace Beery as the loveably wicked, totally disreputable Long John Silver in "Treasure Island" (1934), a tale told by Victor Fleming. Now that you've heard the Siren's call to adventure, set sail for "Captain Blood" (1935). This tale, told by Michael Curtiz, features the great Errol Flynn as the captain, Olivia De Haviland as the lady fair, and Basil Rathbone as the wicked Frenchman. (Hiss!) Finally, after weighing anchor, invite "The Crimson Pirate" (1952) on board for one last yarn. Told by Robert Siodmak, this one features Burt Lancaster and co-stars his teeth. All these are family fare and all must be seen by those first exposed to grand tales of piracy on the high seas by Verbinski, Depp, Rush, and Bloom.