Pirates (Roman Polanski / France-Tunisia, 1986):

Walter Matthau, shaggy-bearded and peg-legged, slouches on a raft set adrift in the ocean -- the gag is set up not only towards Robert Newton, but also Mack Swain famished in The Gold Rush and W.C. Fields doing Micawber, all in a single setup. Just a couple of the allusions Roman Polanski impudently sows and reaps throughout this buccaneering spoof, seeking elegantly low guffaws after the gentility of Tess; the format allows room to skewer classic Flynn adventures and, with Gérard Brach aiding the filmmaker back into Fearless Vampire Killers territory, plenty of human venality, with Matthau hacking away at his wooden leg rather than letting go of a weighty treasure chest. Matthau and sprightly sailor Cris Campion are rescued by a Spanish galleon only to be thrown in chains; the booty is Aztec gold, Damien Thomas is the peruked-dandy villain, mutiny is thwarted and, as punishment, the anti-heroes are forced to go through with the grotty snack cooked up over the opening credits of Desperate Living. A sweet voice emanates from the filth: Charlotte Lewis is the dainty ingénue, the niece of the Governor (Bill Fraser) who figures in a splendid Polanski blur of grimness and romanticism, Matthau hiding under the sheets to munch on the old man's gout-ridden toe as Lewis and Campion neck under the bed. The joke lies in the contrast between the beauty of Polanski's framing and the scurvy visuals being framed, a sense of farcical decay that no amount of opulent finery or powdered wigs can obscure -- the clerical personnel flutter on while an old officer gets a cannon-sized vinegar enema, Matthau hobbles over to piss in Roy Kinnear's bathtub, the captured crew is turned into a sight gag, blue-skinned and with tongues protruding at the public gallows. Finally, Polanski's jest on the reviewers bound to miss the humor: Matthau and Campion perched on a fantastically large set of chains, stoned-faced as their dinghy sails away. With Olu Jacobs, and Ferdy Mayne.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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