The Spanish Main

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The Spanish Main
The Spanish Main 1945 poster.jpg
Directed by Frank Borzage
Produced byFrank Borzage
Written by George Worthing Yates
Herman J. Mankiewicz
Based onstory by Aeneas MacKenzie
Starring Maureen O'Hara
Paul Henreid
Walter Slezak
Binnie Barnes
Music by Hanns Eisler
Cinematography George Barnes
Edited by Ralph Dawson
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release date
  • October 4, 1945 (1945-10-04)(U.S. [1] )
Running time
100 min.
Budget$2 million [2]
Box office2,819,971 admissions (France) [3]

The Spanish Main is a 1945 American adventure film starring Paul Henreid, Maureen O'Hara, Walter Slezak and Binnie Barnes, and directed by Frank Borzage. [4] [5] It was RKO's first all-Technicolor film since Becky Sharp ten years before.


Cinematographer George Barnes received an Oscar nomination for Best Color Cinematography. Though a box-office hit upon its first release, the film is chiefly remembered today for its lavish and intricate score by Hanns Eisler.


Dutch sea captain Laurent van Horn (Paul Henreid) is shipwrecked off the coast of the Spanish settlement of Cartagena. After being held and sentenced to death, Van Horn and his crew manage to escape. Five years later, Van Horn has established himself as the mysterious pirate known only by the name of his ship: The Barracuda. After infiltrating the vessel ferrying her to her wedding, they capture Contessa Francisca Alvarado (Maureen O'Hara) who has been arranged to marry the corrupt governor (Walter Slezak). Wishing to avoid further bloodshed aboard the escort ship, Francisca offers to marry Van Horn if he will spare the escort, to which he agrees. Over time Francisca and Van Horn become attracted to each other and set out to defeat the villainous governor Don Juan Alvarado and treacherous pirates Du Billar (John Emery) and Capt. Black (Barton MacLane).


The film includes the character Anne Bonny (Barnes), in a fictionalized account of the real-life well-known female pirate. Walter Slezak played a similar (but less dastardly) role in the later film The Pirate (1948).



Paul Henreid wrote in his memoirs that the film was his idea. He said he was "getting tired of being cast as the suave ladies' man and I had definitely decided no more Nazis so I started thinking in terms of something that would be more fun, a swashbuckling part in a pirate story." [7]

Henreid was under contract to Warner Bros.; he wrote up a treatment and took it to head of production Jack L. Warner, who refused to make the film. Henreid said his agent at the time, Lew Wasserman, advised him audiences would not accept him "swinging from the yardarm with a bare chest". [8]

However, the actor remained enthusiastic. Henreid had an existing commitment with RKO to make one film a year dating from his appearance in Joan of Paris , so he decided to take the movie there. [9] Henreid says RKO's then head of production Charles Koerner loved the treatment and agreed to make the film. [10]

In October 1943, RKO announced the film would be their big spectacle of the following year, to star Paul Henreid, Maureen O'Hara, George Sanders and Walter Slezak. It was based on an original story and script by Aneas MacKenzie [11] By the end of the month, Sanders was out and replaced by Arturo de Cordova with Robert Fellows to produce. [12]

Henreid says RKO assigned script writing duties to George Worthing Yates but when the actor read the first hundred pages "I hated all of it. It was a completely different story from the one I had concocted and I was furious." [13] Henreid said he refused to make the movie until it was rewritten following his outline. This was done, but Henreid claims the forty new pages he was sent "was exactly the same as Yates' first draft." (He does not mention Aeneas MacKenzie in his memoirs.) [14]

Henreid knew RKO had already started building sets for the film which was budgeted at $2 million, which gave him great leverage. He insisted he be given powers as producer and that Yates be taken off the project. He persuaded Herman J. Mankiewicz, then under contract to RKO, to rewrite the script. Henreid called Mankiewicz's work "his first adventure story was perfect, an exciting thrilling story with everything I wanted in it." [15]

"Pirate pictures always make money," said producer Robert fellows. [16]


In January 1944 RKO announced that O'Hara would be replaced by Laraine Day who had signed a contract with the studio. [17]

In July 1944 RKO announced it as part of its slate for the following year by which stage O'Hara was back on the project. [18] In August, RKO signed Walter Slezak to a two-picture a year deal the first of which was to be The Spanish Main. [19] Ann Dvorak and Binnie Barnes both auditioned for the second female lead with Barnes ultimately being successful. [20]


Filming started November 15, 1944. [21] The budget was expected to be at least $1,750,000. [22]

In May 1945, Hollywood was affected by a strike of crew members. This held up shooting on the film which still had 28 days of filming miniatures to go. [23] By then The Wall Street Journal said the cost was two and a quarter million dollars. [24]

Henreid says the finale of the script involved a slave revolt and the burning of Tortuga, but Koerner refused to film it as it would cost an extra $200,000. Henreid wanted to do the ending, and Koerner agreed if Henreid would provide the $200,000 but Lew Wasserman advised him against it. Mankiewicz was so upset about the ending being charged that he refused to do it and another writer had to be hired for the job. [25]


The film was successful and made a profit of $1,485,000. [26] [27] Henreid says Dore Schary, later head of production of RKO, told him the movie made $14 million. [28]

See also

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  1. "The Spanish Main: Detail View". American Film Institute. Retrieved April 28, 2014.
  2. Stengel, Fred (4 February 2018). "14 RKO Pictures to Exceed a Million". New York, NY: Variety Publishing Company via Internet Archive.
  3. French box office of 1948 at Box Office Story
  4. Variety film review; October 3, 1945, page 20.
  5. Harrison's Reports film review; October 6, 1945, page 158.
  6. Freese, Gene Scott (April 10, 2014). Hollywood Stunt Performers, 1910s-1970s: A Biographical Dictionary (2nd ed.). McFarland & Company. p. 75. ISBN   9780786476435.
  7. Henreid p 167
  8. Henreid p 167
  9. 'Great Lover' Demands Action: Henreid Fears His Public Will Be Cloyed With Romantic Heroes Film's'Great Lover' Craves Action Roles Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 15 Oct 1944: A1.
  10. Henreid, p. 168
  11. Looking at Hollywood Hopper, Hedda. Chicago Daily Tribune 4 Oct 1943: 18.
  12. SCREEN AND STAGE: Los Angeles Times 13 Oct 1943: 12.
  13. Henreid p 168
  14. Henreid p 168
  15. Henreid p 169
  16. Miss O'Hara, Paul Henreid, To Head 'Spanish Main' Cast: Hollywood Letter By Frank Daugherty. The Christian Science Monitor 9 Feb 1945: 5.
  17. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: RKO to Borrow Laraine Day for Two Pictures a Year New York Times 27 Jan 1944: 15.
  18. RKO-RADIO PLANS 50 FEATURE FILMS: Heavy Schedule Includes 171 Shorts -- Also to Release for Noted Independents New York Times 26 July 1944: 16
  19. Linda Darnell to Play Lead in 'Hangover Square' New York Times 16 Aug 1944: 22.
  20. Hedda Hopper LOOKING AT HOLLYWOOD Los Angeles Times 13 Oct 1944: 11.
  21. Warners Plan Remake of '3 Men on a Horse' Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. 1 November 1944: 19.
  23. SCREEN NEWS: Strike Holds Up Latest Errol Flynn Film Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. 10 May 1945: 19.
  24. Movies in 1945: Hollywood to Step Up Output Wall Street Journal 20 March 1945: 1.
  25. Henreid p. 169-170
  26. Richard Jewell & Vernon Harbin, The RKO Story. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1982. p. 206
  27. Richard B. Jewell, Slow Fade to Black: The Decline of RKO Radio Pictures, Uni of California, 2016
  28. Henreid p 170