The Master of Ballantrae (1953 film)

The Master of Ballantrae is a 1953 British Technicolor adventure film starring Errol Flynn and Roger Livesey. It is a loose and highly truncated adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel of the same name. In eighteenth century Scotland, two sons of a laird clash over the family estate and a lady.

The Master of Ballantrae
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWilliam Keighley
Written byHerb Meadow
Harold Medford (add. dialogue)
Based onThe Master of Ballantrae
1889 novel
by Robert Louis Stevenson
StarringErrol Flynn
Roger Livesey
Music byWilliam Alwyn
CinematographyJack Cardiff
Edited byJack Harris
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
5 August 1953 (US)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited Kingdom
Box office$2 million (US rentals)[1]
1,814,822 admissions (France)[2]

It was the last film from director William Keighley.


At the Durrisdeer estate in Scotland in 1745, Jamie Durie (Errol Flynn), his younger brother Henry (Anthony Steel) and their father Lord Durrisdeer (Felix Aylmer) receive news of the Jacobite rising. Their retainer, MacKellar (Mervyn Johns), recommends that one brother join the uprising while the other remains loyal to King George II, so that whichever side wins, the family's status and estate will be preserved. Both brothers want to go. Jamie insists on tossing a coin for the privilege and wins, despite the opposition of his fiancée, Lady Alison (Beatrice Campbell).

The rising is crushed at the Battle of Culloden. Evading British soldiers, Jamie falls in with an Irish adventurer, Colonel Francis Burke (Roger Livesey). They return secretly to Durrisdeer to obtain money for passage to France.

When Jamie's commoner mistress, Jessie Brown (Yvonne Furneaux), sees him kissing Lady Alison, she betrays him to the English. Jamie is shot by Major Clarendon and falls into the sea. Henry becomes the heir to the estate on the presumption that Jamie is dead.

Believing his brother betrayed him, a wounded Jamie and Burke take ship with smugglers to the West Indies, where they are betrayed by their captain McCauley and captured by pirates led by French dandy Captain Arnaud (Jacques Berthier).

Jamie goes into partnership with Arnaud. When they reach the port of Tortugas Bay, they see a rich Spanish galleon captured by fellow buccaneer Captain Mendoza (Charles Goldner). Arnaud agrees to Jamie's proposal that they steal the ship. However, once they have seized the galleon, Arnaud turns on Jamie. Jamie kills Arnaud in a sword duel and takes command. They sail for Scotland.

Jamie returns to the family estate, rich with pirate treasure, to find a celebration in progress for Henry's betrothal to Alison. Unable to contain himself, Jamie confronts his brother, despite the presence of British officers. A fight breaks out, in which Henry tries to aid Jamie. The unequal fight ends with Jamie and Burke condemned to death.

Jessie helps them escape, at the cost of her own life. Henry also assists them. Jamie tells his brother of the location of some treasure which Henry can then use to pay off Jamie's gambling debts. Alison elects to go with Jamie to an uncertain future and she, Burke and Jamie all ride off together.




Walter Whiteside toured the US with a play version of the novel in 1935.[3][4]

Warner Bros purchased the screen rights to the novel in 1950. The novel was in the public domain in the US but still in copyright in certain European countries. The purchase was made with funds "frozen" by the British government i.e. money earned by Warners in Britain which they could not take out of the country.[5]

Warner Bros announced on 7 September 1950 that they would make the film, with shooting to take place in England.[6] (Warners had just made another sea-faring tale, Captain Horatio Hornblower, in England.) The following year it was announced that Joe Gottesman would be producer and Herb Meadow was doing the adaptation.[7]

In 1952 it was announced that Errol Flynn would star and the film would be known as The Sea Rogue.[8][9] Anthony Steel, who had impressed in some British films, was signed to play his brother.[10]


The film was shot in Great Britain in 1952 from June 25 through to August, with location work in Cornwall and the Scottish Highlands with the pirate sequences done in Palermo in Sicily.[11][12][13] Shooting took place six days a week.[14]

Fencing champion Sgt Robert Anderson from the (British) Royal marines went on leave to participate in the film.[15]

Filming went very smoothly, in contrast to many Errol Flynn movies around this time. The star was co-operative and well behaved and enjoyed the experience.[16]

"Playing in that period piece made me realise how that must have been the heyday of great lovers," Flynn said. "In the 18th century men treated their women either angels or scullery maids. You were either gallantly or roughly romantic, and the women expected it one way or the other."[17]


The New York Times called it Flynn's best swashbuckler since The Sea Hawk.[18] "Flynn himself hasn't been served better in years," wrote the Los Angeles Times.[19]

The Washington Post called the film "a chaotic tale deserving of his [Flynn's] undisputed prowess."[20]

It was the last film Flynn made under contract to Warner Bros., ending an association that had lasted for 18 years and 35 films.[21]


  1. 'The Top Box Office Hits of 1953', Variety, 13 January 1954
  2. 1954 French box office figures at Box Office Story
  3. RIALTO GOSSIP: The Messrs. Porter and Hart and Life in Africa -- Return of Mr. Craven -- An Old Road Master GOSSIP OF THE RIALTO New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 09 Dec 1934: X1.
  4. Whiteside Seen in Picturesque Role in Stevenson Play Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 17 Feb 1935: A2.
  5. "Inside Stuff". Variety. 20 September 1950.
  6. WALD, KRASNA BUY ZOLA STORY RIGHTS: R.K.O. Producers to Do New Film on 'The Human Beast' --Mature Injured on Set Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 08 Sep 1950: 25.
  7. Drama: Hollywood's Invasion of Europe Spreading; Lanza Start Slated Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 11 Oct 1951: B9.
  8. 'Master of Ballantrae' Will Star Errol Flynn; Russell Set at Disney's Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 07 Apr 1952: B9.
  9. FLYNN WILL PLAY PIRATE IN ENGLAND: To Be Starred in 'Sea Rogue,' Based on Stevenson Story, for Warners in Summer By THOMAS M. PRYOR Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 07 Apr 1952: 20.
  10. Drama: Anthony Steel Enacts Brother in 'Ballantrae;' Bobby Van Speeds Along Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 05 July 1952: A7.
  11. Tony Thomas, Rudy Behlmer & Clifford McCarty, The Films of Errol Flynn, Citadel Press, 1969 p 194
  12. MOVIELAND BRIEFS. Los Angeles Times 6 Oct 1952: B8.
  13. "London Film Notes". Variety. 18 June 1952. p. 14.
  14. FILMLAND BRIEFS Los Angeles Times 14 July 1952: B8.
  15. Schallert, Edwin (27 September 1952). "'Comedy Claims Calhern in Gay Latin Lovers;'". Los Angeles Times. p. 11.
  16. Greg Ferrera, "The Master of Ballantrae", Turner Classic Movies accessed 24 May 2015
  17. "Sandys's Mission On New Weapons". Newcastle Morning Herald And Miners' Advocate (23, 988). New South Wales, Australia. 25 August 1953. p. 2. Retrieved 8 May 2016 via National Library of Australia.
  18. Master of Ballantrae' at Paramount H. H. T.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 6 Aug 1953: 16.
  19. Flynn's 'Ballantrae' Has Real Scotch Kick Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 6 Aug 1953: B9.
  20. A Nifty Chemise And Errol Flynn By Richard L. Coe. The Washington Post (1923-1954) [Washington, D.C] 31 July 1953: 39.
  21. Thomas Pryor, 'ERROL FLYNN ENDS PACT AT WARNERS: ACTOR AND STUDIO AGREE TO PART -- STAR MADE 35 FILMS IN 20 YEARS ON LOT', New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 20 Mar 1954: 10.
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