Pirates, O'Hara and Slezak - Sounds Familiar
Whilst the casting of Paul Henreid as a pirate offers up something a little different the rest of "The Spanish Main" is your standard 1940's swashbuckler with Maureen O'Hara and Walter Slezak cast in familiar roles. It is by no means a terrible movie but one which for all sense and purpose offers up nothing to make it stand out and be remembered above other swashbucklers. And sadly part of the problem with "The Spanish Main" is Paul Henreid as whilst he looks good and handles a sword effectively enough he lacks that roguish charm which the likes of Tyrone Power exhibited in his swashbucklers.
Dutch sailor Laurent van Horn (Paul Henreid - Casablanca) finds himself thrown in to prison by Governor Don Juan Alvarado (Walter Slezak - Lifeboat) when his ship runs aground on the coast of Cartagene. 5 years after escaping with the help of some other prisoners Laurent has become the feared pirate known as The Barracuda who takes control of a ship carrying Contessa Francesca (Maureen O'Hara), the daughter of a Mexican nobleman on her way to Cartagene for her arranged marriage to Alvarado. Agreeing to marry Laurent if he allows another ship to go free their union ends up causing disharmony amongst other pirates including Anne Bonney (Binnie Barnes) and Mario du Billar (Barton MacLane) who betray him and take Francesca to Alvarado in the hope he will pardon them.
"The Spanish Main" is actually based upon an original story by Aeneas MacKenzie but trust me if you have watched other 1940's pirate swashbucklers you would be hard pushed to realise this as for the most it is generic. I suppose I could say the intro which sees Laurent thrown in prison for no crime is a bit different before he becomes a pirate and the ending has a bit of a difference but what goes on in the middle is very familiar. As such Laurent antagonises Francesca, they marry and realise they do have feelings for each other, a female pirate and some others dislike her and betray them cue some sword fighting and daring rescue attempts, none of which is new.
Now for the most "The Spanish Main" is an okay pirate swashbuckler as it delivers what you expect with some entertaining pirate action as they capture ships and of course we get the required sword fight as Laurent takes on his enemies. Now that swordfight whilst not the most dynamic is okay but unfortunately Paul Henreid as Laurent isn't. In fairness Henreid looks good and interacts well with the rest of the cast but the character is too nice and he lacks that roguish charm to make him the full package. When Laurent antagonises Francesca it lacks the cockiness, that bit of devil in him to make it fun which is a shame.
Aside from Henreid's lack of roguish charm there is of course Maureen O'Hara as Francesca and as was always the case O'Hara is absolutely ravishing which with "The Spanish Main" being RKO's first Technicolor movie shows her off as even more ravishing than ever. Sadly though O'Hara is saddled with a cliche character, the reluctant wife who ends up loving her man so in the end O'Hara's ravishing looks do end dominating her performance. On the other hand you also have Walter Slezak as Don Juan Alvarado and Slezak is his reliable self making Alvarado larger than life and a bit comical and if truth be told Slezak's performance is actually better than the movie deserved.
What this all boils down to is that "The Spanish Main" is your basic 1940's pirate movie, a typical swashbuckler which fails to add anything really new to the mix other than Paul Henreid as a pirate. It looks good and Maureen O'Hara looks ravishing but it won't be a movie which makes you feel like you need to watch it again.