Last night, after I watched Cutthroat Island, I continued to prepare for Talk Like A Pirate Day by watching The Island, a pirate movie from 1980.
Michael Caine has appeared in some truly bizarre films over the course of his long career but The Island may be the strangest. (According to the imdb, it’s also one of the few films that he refuses to discuss in interviews, which is kind of amazing when you consider some of the films that Caine will discuss.) In The Island, Caine is plays Blair Maynard, a cynical New York journalist who happens to have a cockney accent. Looking to do a story about the Bermuda Triangle, Maynard heads down to Florida. He takes along his 12 year-old son, Justin (Jeffrey Frank), because what father wouldn’t unnecessarily put his only child’s life in danger? Of course, Justin isn’t happy when he finds out that his father lied about visiting Disney World but all is forgiven after Maynard buys him a gun. Justin does love to shoot guns, which will become a plot point soon enough.
Anyway, Maynard and Justin soon discover that the reason people are disappearing in the Bermuda Triangle is because they’re being kidnapped by … wait for it … PIRATES!
That’s right, real-life pirates! Apparently, centuries ago, a group of French pirates set up a colony on an uncharted island in the Caribbean. Now, under the leadership of the savage Nau (played by the very British and not very savage David Warner), these pirates spend their time attacking boats, murdering people, and speaking in an odd combination of English, French, and Portuguese. However, centuries of in-breeding have weakened the bloodline. So, while Nau brainwashes Justin and turns him into a little buccaneer, Maynard is given to Beth (Angela Punch McGregor) and told to “thrust thrust.”
Yes, that’s right. This is a film in which a middle-aged Michael Caine — complete with his trademark glasses and his “what the bloody Hell?” attitude — is turned into a sex slave. (Again, this is one of the few films that Caine apparently refuses to discuss.) The scene in which Beth strips the chained Maynard naked and then starts to rub Vaseline on him would be strange regardless of who played the main role but when it’s Michael Caine, it goes beyond the merely strange to becoming almost a work of outsider art.
Anyway, the movie only gets stranger from there as Justin grows to love the pirate life style and, eventually, both he and his father even get to take part in a raid on a schooner. It’s during this raid that, from out of nowhere, a guy in extremely tight shorts pops up and starts doing all sorts of elaborate kung fu moves. (He also makes all of the expected kung fu sounds while David Warner has a good laugh.) It’s also during this raid that the pirates come across several packets of white powder.
“It’s a drug called cocaine,” Maynard says.
“What does it cure?” Beth asks.
“Insecurity,” Maynard answers.
It all leads to not only an impromptu wedding ceremony but also to the sight of Michael Caine screaming his head off while firing a machine gun. I think we’re supposed to feel that the ordeal has driven Maynard somewhat mad but it’s hard to tell. Caine has always been open about the fact that, for many years, he basically just accepted any role that was offered to him and The Island would appear to be a perfect example. Maynard may have been trying to rescue his son but Caine’s main concern was obviously getting his paycheck and moving on to the next role.
The Island is one of those movies that’s so odd that it really doesn’t matter whether it’s any good or not. Between the strange plot and Michael Caine’s almost comically detached performance, this one of those films that, once you start watching, you really can’t look away from it. In the end, The Island is so weird and misjudged that it becomes brilliant despite itself.