Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"The Most Flamboyant Captain Hook Ever"

Obviously, I had to begin my blog post series about Captain Hook by discussing Hook as Barrie created him: in drama, literature, and imagination (his own as well as collective). Instead of skipping right to the Disney rendition, which is probably what most people think of, I decided to discuss Cyril Ritchard’s portrayal of Hook instead. I remember watching this version on television when I was little, thinking it was strange and wonderful at the same time. I enjoyed all the music and dance numbers, but some parts of it were unfamiliar to me- what is with that weird ostrich thing? I guess it’s called a Neverbird but I didn’t know what it was then.

Anyway, I also vividly remember my confusion at seeing Captain Hook dance around. Isn’t this guy supposed to be scary and fearsome? I know that this Peter Pan was a Broadway musical; in fact, Ritchard received a Tony award for his Captain Hook. This version is wonderfully campy, and extremely kid-friendly. What kid could possibly be afraid of a pirate that waltzes and sings silly songs?

When I did a quick search on Cyril Ritchard, and one of the first links that came up read “Cyril Ritchard: The Most Flamboyant Captain Hook Ever” and I had to chuckle because I think most people would agree. He doesn't seem terrifying in the slightest, but like a vain primadonna. His stage make-up is caked on, he makes the other pirates carry him around on a chaise, his colorful wardrobe and his painted on mole (or as Lady Gaga says about her own "it's not fake, it's surreal") make him a rather unlikely villain.

And what about the lyrics to his Tarantella?

"Oh!- when was such a princely plot concocted by another
to murder all the boys and keep the Wendy for our mother"

In Barrie's novel, Smee promises Wendy that he'll save her if she'll be his mother, so this film version is consistent with that idea.  . .but Smee is supposed to be a bumbling sidekick, not an evil genius. The idea is creepy enough on its own: a kidnapped pre-pubescent girl playing mommy to a fully grown man that helped capture her.  . .too much Oedipal complex and Stockholm syndrome to disentagle right now. But Ritchards' gleeful singing makes the idea pretty unbelievable anyway since he's the least threatening pirate of all time.

I don't really think this Captain Hook needs a mother- I think he needs a better chorus line.

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