Against All Flags

Against All Flags is a 1952 American pirate film directed by George Sherman and Douglas Sirk and starring Errol Flynn as Brian Hawke, Maureen O'Hara as Prudence "Spitfire" Stevens and Anthony Quinn as Roc Brasiliano. The film's plot is set in 1700, when British officer Brian Hawke infiltrates a group of pirates located on Libertatia on the coast of Madagascar, and falls in love with pirate captain "Spitfire" Stevens.

Against All Flags
1952 film poster by Reynold Brown
Directed byGeorge Sherman
Douglas Sirk
Produced byHoward Christie
Written byJoseph Hoffman
Aeneas MacKenzie
StarringErrol Flynn
Maureen O'Hara
Music byHans J. Salter
CinematographyRussell Metty
Edited byFrank Gross
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • December 24, 1952 (1952-12-24) (New York City)
Running time
84 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.6 million (US)[2]
1,993,068 admissions (France)[3]


Lieutenant Brian Hawke, an officer aboard the British merchant ship The Monsoon, volunteers for a dangerous mission to infiltrate the pirates' base at Diego Suarez on the coast of Madagascar. He is to pose as a deserter, and to make his disguise more convincing, he is given twenty lashes. When he arrives in Diego Suarez, he arouses the suspicions of the pirates, especially Captain Roc Brasiliano. Brasiliano orders him to appear before a tribunal of the Coast Captains to decide his fate. If they do not like him, he will be executed. Meanwhile, Hawke has caught the eye of Spitfire Stevens - the only woman among the Coast Captains - who inherited her position from her father.

At the tribunal, Hawke duels one of the pirates with boarding pikes, managing to outfight him. Hawke is therefore allowed to join Brasiliano's crew to prove his worth. While cruising the shipping lanes, they come across a Moghul vessel crammed with luxuries and vast wealth. After a tough battle, it is taken and looted. Captured aboard is Patma, the daughter of the Moghul Emperor, who is disguised by her chaperone as just another ordinary woman. She falls in love with Hawke after he rescues her from the burning ship, admitting he is only the third man she has ever seen.

When they return to Diego-Suarez, Spitfire becomes jealous of Patma. When Patma is put up for auction, she outbids Hawke (who wanted to protect her from the other pirates) and takes the Indian woman into her service. In a candid moment, Spitfire tells Hawke she is planning to leave for Britain via Brazil, where she can catch a legal ship. She wants Hawke to accompany her there, after which he can take ownership of her ship. Brasiliano's hatred of Hawke grows, as he has a fancy for Spitfire himself.

Hawke has slowly been gathering information on the base, and has acquired a map of the defences. It is planned that the Royal Navy ships will sail into the harbour, with Hawke disabling the cannons. Hawke gives a signal to the British ships with a flare, and makes sure the Moghul princess is ready to be rescued. Unfortunately, Hawke's plans are uncovered by Brasiliano. Hawke is tied to a stake on the beach, to be drowned and eaten by crabs. Spitfire pretends to stab him in the back to end his suffering, but instead cuts the ropes binding him to the stake.

At that moment, a British warship enters the bay. The pirates hurry to repel it, expecting to easily sink it as they had a Portuguese warship that recently attempted to storm the harbour. To their surprise, the cannons have been double-shotted and explode. Faced with imminent defeat and hanging, Brasiliano tries a final gamble to escape: He places the princess at the front of his ship as he sails past the British warship, knowing they will not dare fire on her. However, Hawke has slipped aboard and manages to reach the hostage, escorting her to safety. With Spitfire aiding him, Hawke squares off against Brasiliano for an epic final sword duel on the decks of the ship. For killing Brasiliano and foiling the pirates, Hawke is granted a boon, which he uses to claim a full pardon for Spitfire, and the two end the film kissing each other.




The film was originally written by Aeneas MacKenzie and director Richard Wallace as a vehicle for Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., who had just made Sinbad the Sailor with Wallace. In January 1950 it was announced Fairbanks would make the film for his own company in April or May in Hollywood once he finished making State Secret in England.[4]

However, the film was not produced and Aeneas MacKenzie sold his original script to Universal in July 1950. Alexis Smith and Yvonne De Carlo were mentioned as possible female leads and Jack Gross was assigned to be the producer.[5][6]

William Goetz, head of production, put the project on the shelf until he could find the right star. In August 1951 Errol Flynn signed a one-picture deal with the studio to make the film.[7]

Under his contact with Warner Bros., Flynn was allowed to make one film a year for an outside studio. His contract with Universal meant Flynn was entitled to a percentage of the profits.[8] Filming was delayed so Flynn could make Mara Maru at Warners. During this time the script was rewritten by Joseph Hoffman and Anthony Quinn signed early on as the villain.[9] By November Howard Christie was set as producer, George Sherman as director and Maureen O'Hara the co-star.[10]

Sherman later wrote that Flynn was unsure about the scene where he fenced against a woman. He said "I'm supposed to be the bravest guy on screen? How could I fight a woman?" Sherman had worked with O'Hara before and assured him she was capable of holding her own "with a sword, a gun or her fists if need be" and warned Flynn he needed to be in shape.[11]


Filming began in January 1951. It was mostly done on a stage at the Universal Studios in Los Angeles with some location footage shot at Palos Verdes, California. It was Flynn's last Hollywood swashbuckler, as the further three he starred in were all made in Europe.[12]

Flynn exercised a degree of authority on set as changes in his contract meant that he ordered that the days of shooting end at 4.00pm, by which time he would become inebriated.[13][14]

Maureen O'Hara was wary of working with Flynn after he made an amorous advance on her years before. However she said by the end of filming "he had won me over. I respected him professionally and was quite fond of him personally. Father Time was slowly calming his wicked, wicked ways, and deep within that devilish rogue, I found a kind and fragile soul."[15]

O'Hara said that Flynn "was a pro" who "came to work prepared. He rehearsed hard and practised his fencing sequences very meticulously."[16] O'Hara did admit Flynn drank on set, often smuggling in alcohol by injecting it into oranges and eating the oranges. She said "everything good that we got on film was shot early in the day" and that Flynn would start drinking by morning and be of no use after 4 pm. She had to perform many of her close ups for love scenes opposite a black flag with an "x" on it while a script girl read lines. "It was hard to watch him, very frustrating, but you forgave him because what he had given you earlier in the day had been so terrific."[17]

On 1 February Flynn broke his ankle during filming, with ten more days of filming still to be completed, most of it featuring Flynn. This meant completion of the movie had to be delayed.[14][18] The ship which had been used in the film had been transformed for the film Yankee Buccaneer and had to be converted back.[19][20]

On April 18 Flynn returned to shoot the remaining sequences over two days. Because director George Sherman was working on Willie and Joe Back at the Front by then, the scenes were shot by Douglas Sirk.[21]

Anthony Quinn said that he and O'Hara had an affair making Sinbad the Sailor and everytime they worked together again - Against All Flags, The Magnificent Matador - they would resume their affair temporarily.[22]



The new York Times said Fynn "is a singular man among men and Maureen O'Hara... who is beautiful putty in his hands."[23]

The Chicago Tribune called it "routine and ridiculous".[24]

Box Office

O'Hara said the film made "a pot of money".[25] According to Variety is earned $1.6 million in North America in 1953.[2]


The film was remade in 1967 as The King's Pirate.


  1. Against All Flags at the American Film Institute Catalog
  2. 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1953', Variety, January 13, 1954
  3. 1953 French box office figures at Box Office Story
  4. Drama: Pirate Picture Shapes for Fairbanks; Wyman May Do Lawrence Story. Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (20 January 1950: 23.
  5. 'Against All Flags' New Pirate Story Purchase; Los Angeles Times 6 July 1950: B7.
  6. PRODUCTION CHIEF QUITS PARAMOUNT: Henry Ginsberg Resigns Post as Vice President at Studio By Thomas F. Brady. New York Times 6 July 1950: 31.
  9. 'Pilate's Wife' Slated at RKO Los Angeles Times 9 Sep 1951: D9
  10. STUDIO BRIEFS Los Angeles Times 9 Nov 1951: B8.
  11. Sherman, George (1988). "Maureen O'Hara: Classy Colleen". In Peary, Danny (ed.). Close-ups : intimate profiles of movie stars by their costars, directors, screenwriters, and friends. Simon & Schuster. p. 458.
  12. Reid p.7
  13. McNulty p.250
  14. Flynn Marches On! Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 27 Apr 1952: g10.
  15. O'Hara p 347
  16. O'Hara p 347
  17. O'Hara p 348
  18. WILLIAMS WRITING NEW MOVIE SCRIPT: New York Times 2 Feb 1952: 10.
  19. Reid p.7-8
  20. Tony Thomas, Rudy Behlmer & Clifford McCarty, The Films of Errol Flynn, Citadel Press, 1969 p 180
  21. FILM MEN GALLOP TO POLITICAL POLL: New York Times 18 Apr 1952: 21.
  22. Quinn, Anthony (1996). One man tango. HarperPaperbacks. p. 242.
  23. At the Capitol A. W. New York Times 25 Dec 1952: 34.
  24. Flynn, Maureen O'Hara Team in Pirate Film: "AGAINST ALL FLAGS" Tinee, Mae. Chicago Daily Tribune 1 Jan 1953: c2.
  25. O'Hara p 348


  • McNulty, Thomas. Errol Flynn: the life and career. McFarland & Company, 2004.
  • O'Hara, Maureen; Nicoletti, John (2004). 'Tis herself : a memoir. Thorndike Press.
  • Reid, John Howard. Hollywood's Miracles of Entertainment., 2005.
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