Two of America’s hottest young stars joined a veteran English director in 1982 to make a musical movie about pirates in Australia.
The romantic interest in the film was provided by 19-year-old Kristy McNichol (best known for the TV series Family) and Christopher Atkins (whose first film The Blue Lagoon opposite Brooke Shields, was an international hit).
This was director Ken Annakin’s 47th film, having previously enjoyed box office success with The Longest Day (1962), Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines (1965) and Battle Of The Bulge (1965).
But everything else about the production was Australian. The money was raised there, the script was written there, original songs were by Terry Britten (a former member of The Twilights) and the choreographer was David Atkins.
Mabel (McNichol) is a shy girl who craves popularity. She attends a pirate festival in her seaside community, featuring a swordplay demo led by a curly haired hunk (Atkins).
After selecting Mabel to take part in the act, the instructor invites her on his boat for a real ride on the high seas.
Sent to get food for the trip, Mabel is accidentally left behind when one of her friends pulls the anchor too soon. Resolute not only to fit in but to catch her dream guy, Mabel steers a small sailboat into stormy waters in pursuit and gets marooned.
As a result, a fantasy begins in which the oblivious Mabel pictures herself in a real pirate adventure, complete with her handsome pirate hero, a legion of his irritable shipmates, and dozens of unwed sisters who must rise to the altar before she can.
The Australians in key roles were Gary McDonald, leaving behind his Norman Gunston character to portray a richly comic Sergeant of Police, Bill Kerr as the very model of a modern Major-General, Maggie Kirkpatrick as Ruth, the lone female member of the pirate gang, and Ted Hamilton as the debonair Pirate King.
Pirates, policemen and the Major-General’s unusually large family of daughters made a regular cast of more than 60. With a crew of 85 and, on some days, additional extras taking the complement to more than 200, it was – at the time – one of the biggest films made in the country.
Although the characters would all seem familiar to fans of Gilbert and Sullivan, The Pirate Movie was not a film version of Pirates of Penzance. The producers used that as a starting point for an original movie, retaining five songs from the original comic operetta. All other songs were new originals by Terry Britten.
This $7.25 million production was filmed in Victoria and NSW. Most of the shooting took place at Werribee Park, an Italianate mansion owned by the Victorian state government and built in 1877. This became the Major-General’s ancestral home and also housed the film company’s offices, set building, wardrobe and makeup facilities.
Scenes on the pirate ship were filmed on Sydney Harbour aboard the three-masted brigantine, the New Endeavour.
The Pirate King