It’s that time of year again when we are trying to cool down in the middle of Global Warming, aka the Summer, that we find more Sea Adventures on the telly and in local theaters. Luckily, some of these cooling down movies are pirate movies. This past May, the 5th installment of Disney’s highly successful Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Lies was released in theaters around the world. Like all pirate movies, it contained dangerous adventures with the lure of finding gold and other riches, some romance along the way, Good eventually conquering Evil, and witty comments, humorously found throughout the movie. Johnny Depp’s Captain Black Jack Sparrow supplies most of the humor with his drunken slurs and Keith Richards‘ swagger.
Despite Disneys’ success, most pirate movies in the last fifty years have been box office disappointments. One of the biggest flops in film history was Cutthroat Island (1996) with Geena Davis, Matthew Modine and Frank Langella. And yet, I love this pirate movie. I have wondered why this movie flopped, that badly. My personal best guess is that in America, 23 years ago, watching a powerful, successful woman using the Machiavellian tools of the trade (piracy, corrupt politics, lying…) would scare the bejesus out of most people. Martha Stewart and Leona Helmley going to prison are two real life cases in point.
After the results of the 2016 Election, I believe it still scares most people. However, when you compared Genna Davis’ pirate gal to Gal Gadot’s Wonder Women (2017), (Another movie, I love) we see a perfect 1940s version of a woman… Think of Rosie the Riveter. Wonder Woman is a powerful Amazon who is pure as the driven snow. She would never stoop to lie, steal, or manipulate. Power with some with taint on it is much more acceptable for men than for women. Does this sounds a bit “Double Standard-ish?” Oh well, this topic is for another blog.
Fortunately, failing at the box office doesn’t really mean much over the years because it’s the audience who says weather a movie is entertaining enough to watch. If, in fact, it is binge worthy, it could indicate that it has held up over time: a possible, Classic. Like CutThroat Island, Nate and Heyes definitely fits the criteria for being a pirate fan favorite/classic. It is not surprising to find it listed on many “Top Best Pirates movies ever.” Here is an example of one I borrowed off YouTube.com. Take a look a the five picks on this video.
Nate and Heyes (aka Savage Islands) stars the iconic Tommy Lee Jones, lovely Jenny Seagrove, adorable Michale O’Keefe and wonderful villian, Max Phipps. It was filmed in New Zealand and Fiji; so, the scenery is gorgeous. There is no CGI in this movie. What you see is what you get. So, when I see Tommy Lee Jones riding a fast horse; then, jumps out of the saddle before the horse comes to a complete stop, I know Jones did that. How do I know it was not a stunt man? Because the camera angle stayed on him and did not change. Besides, Texan Jones not only owns a polo team, he rides with his team in completions. His team won the U.S. Polo Association’s Western Challenge Cup of 1993. As a polo player and fan, every year, he invites the best polo players from Harvard university to practice on his ranch in Texas.
Jones is one of those “real” people who just happens to be an actor too. His father worked on oil rigs and his mother owed a beauty salon. Growing up, Jones was not only intelligent but athletic too. In fact, he earned his Harvard scholarship by playing football. He does not live in Los Angeles. He is a bit of a Hollywood rebel or as one interviewer put it, he is Anti-Hollywood.
A Bit of History?
Tommy Lee Jones gravelly voice and dead-pan delivery is perfect for the role of pirate Bully Heyes. I seen a list of historical characters that Jones played: Thaddeus Stevens (Lincoln), Ty Cobb, Howard Huges, Gary Gilmore, Olivier Lynn, Douglas MacArthur and Clay Shaw. However, I did not see Bully Heyes listed as one of his historical roles. Probably because most of what was written was too exaggerated or just plain mythical.
Bully Heyes and Ben Pease were real life pirates/businessmen in the late 1890s. They mostly traveled near the Pacific Rim and within the South Pacific Islands, like Tahiti. Hayes was an American born in Ohio. His experiences included various forms of con artistry, thievery and possibly murder. Many times he found himself as the Captain of a ship. Near the end of his life, he was even a vaudeville performer (black face minstrel show) in Australia. He was accused of being a Blackbirder (slavery); however, Heyes denied this. He and Pease were “friends” and some times “business partners.” They had a fallen out over a native girl. Hayes wanted to make sure the young lady wanted to be in Pease’s company. So, he pulled a gun on him. Hayes asked her if she wanted to go with Pease. The young Lady told Heyes she did want to go with Pease; and, Heyes dropped the matter. Pease did not. Later, Heyes sails into a harbour on Pease’s ship. Hayes claimed he bought the ship from Pease. Hayes “thinks” Pease might have been killed in a fight with the French navy. Few believed Heyes’ story.
Summary of the Movie That is Very Loosely Based on a True Story
For the most part, this is a jumbled mix of fact and fiction. However, it is still very entertaining film to watch. Besides, it cannot be too bad because John Huges ( Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Home Alone….) is credited as the writer for Savage Islands (aka Nate and Heyes) and co-screenwriter with David Odell. The movie is based on a story by Lloyd Phillips who also co-produced this movie too.
The movie begins with Heyes (Jones) attempting to sell guns to a group of islanders whose Chief is a dishonest woman. She says: Captain Heyes you got guns? Heyes says: I got guns. You got gold? Chief says: I see guns; you see gold. Heyes’s men open a crate of guns.
Hayes loads a rifle, taken from the crate, with two bullets as he is walking toward the Chief. She asks: Spanish have? Hayes shakes his head, and says: U.S. Army madam. Spanish do not have.
Hayes then fires one shot and laughs. Chief takes the rifle. She proceeds to lock and load. Mr Blake (Heyes’ Captain’s mate) warns the crewmen: Duck lads! Cheif shoots and kills two of her warriors while the natives giggle and laugh. Hayes is shocked and disgusted. The Chief happily and says: Good! Hayes says: No! It’s not good. It’s bad. Chief: Show me more guns. Hayes: you show me gold, I show you more guns. Chief: No gold!
Hayes: I don’t think this is a honest woman, Blake.
Blake: Yeah, the heathens have been exposed to Western practices
Hayes: They used to be honest
Chief getting angry: Show me more guns now!
Hayes: Yes, ma’am
Hayes turns to leave: and says: See what happens with women and business? Future looks dark Blake.
Hayes removes a belt of bullets that is wrapped around his chest and holds them over a fire. Hayes says: Here’s your guns (tossing a rifle aside) and (dropping belt into the fire) here’s your bullets.
The crew run for their lives while at the same time fighting and shooting the natives. The whole crew is either killed or captured, except for Heyes. Just as he begins to realize he escaped, he finds himself staring into the barrel of a gun held by Ben Pease (Max Phipps). Pease is working for the Spanish government. To find capture gun runners. Hayes is taken and sent to a prison in Manila, Philippines. As he awaits execution, a reporter interviewing him tries to get his confession and his last words. It is true newspapers reported all kinds of stories about the real Heyes. The real Bully Heyes is known as: The Last of the Buccaneers.
Hayes explains how he transported a missionary couple, Nathaniel and Sophie (Michale O’Keefe and Jenny Seagrove), to an island missionary outpost. The journey took two months. This is more than enough time to get to know your passengers. Once they reach the island, Sophie reminds Heyes that she and Nathaniel are only engaged. Nathaniel’s missionary uncle is to marry them soon. I thought it was funny when one of the natives refer to the aunt and uncle as “Big Man God” and “Momma Jesus Christ.” All the extras portraying islanders in this movie are local natives.
The real Heyes was known as a ladies man and had been married at least four or five times without the benefit of ever divorcing anyone. Nathaniel, aware of Heyes’ attentions to Sophie, carefully watches him. Poor Nathaniel, a nice guy but a bit of a “dandy.” Before Sophie says goodbye to Heyes, she informs him that her father recently died. She has a small inheritance. She asks Heyes to invest it in his business endeavors. Hayes willingly accepts her money and sails away.
In real life, Heyes charmed both of the couple. He left the husband ashore and sailed away with the wife and their money.
When the uncle and aunt learns that it is Bully Heyes that delivered them, they are shocked that they made it to the island alive. He tells them that Heyes is a feared blackbirder (Slaver). The following day, Sophie and Nathaniel are about to be married and are attacked by Ben Pease and his pirate crew, who are blackbirders. Nathaniel is grazed by a bullet. Sophie thinks he is dead. She lies down beside him faking her own death. Pease tries to rip a gold necklace from her neck. She jumps up and screams and tries to escape. Pease says: Women! You can’t trust them even when they are dead.
When Nathaniel wakes up, he is told Blackbirders came to kill and enslave the natives, including Sophie. Nathaniel believes it is Bully Heyes who took Sophie. He is helped by a native to make a boat raft. He uses it to sail away and to find his betrothed. In the meanwhile, Heyes decides to return to the island. Why? I haven’t a clue. To take her with him or to enslave the natives? Return her money? I am not sure why? He soon learns what has happened and he knows who is responsible. He also knows where the closest auction house is that Pease will use. On his way, to save Sophie, he ends up saving a shipped wrecked Nathaniel who is sitting on a tiny a toll in the middle of no where.
Now, Heyes and Nate are working together to rescue sweet Sophie and fight Ben Pease. The movie is full of adventure and surprises as the two men form a mutual man crush. Sophie, thinking Nate is dead, leaves a note for Bully. She briefly seen Heyes trying to rescue her before Pease moved her to another location. Nate finds the note and thinks Sophie has fallen in love with Heyes. Pease wants to use Sophie as a bargaining chip for the German government. The Germans need coaling stations for their steamships. Sophie is sold to an Island chief who practises cannibalism and human sacrifice. By trading Sophie, they have access to the island harbours for their steamships. Now, Nate and Heyes not only have fight Pease and his crew, but also the German Army, and the cannibals too, in order to save Sophie.
After all of these adventures, we are bought back to the beginning of the movie. In the jail cell, Heyes is awaiting his execution. In real life, Heyes was released. However, in this movie, the ending is different for Heyes.
It is true that Heyes was accused as being a Blackbirder. However, people had come forward who thought it was Heyes. Instead, they described a big Irishman who spoke English and beat the crap out of his crew. It does sound like Bully Heyes!
Actually, the ending for the real Heyes, happens a few years later. The ship’s cook, of all people, shoots him in the stomach, hits him over the head with an iron skillet and throws his body overboard. He claims Bully threatened him. However, the whole crew looked for Heyes’ hidden treasure. They never found it. At least, this is the commonly believed ending of the Last Buccaneer. In truth, no one can prove any of it, including the murderous cook. Who really knows how the infamous Heyes died? Who knows, this movie ending might be closer to the truth. Regardless what you choose to believe, this movie is solid fun.
This blog was written as part of the Swashbuckling Adventure Blogathon. It is hosted by Movies Silently. Please use the link below to read more pirate movie posts.
***None of the images seen here are own by me
James A. Michener & A. Grove Day, Bully Hayes, South Sea Buccaneer & Louis Becke, Adventurer and Writer in Rascals in Paradise, (London: Secker & Warburg 1957).
15 thoughts on “Pirates, Myths and A Swashbuckling Blogathon: Nate and Heyes (1983)”
Hi Katrina, I found your blog very interesting but I don,t watch to many pirate movies but the ones you wrote about I,m sure many readers will have wtched them and comment on them. I havene seen Johnny debb,s pitates of the caribbeans and laughed and liked them ,all except the last one they did will have to look at see if it,s on demand yet. And superheroes not much of a fan of their movies but saw the Wonderwoman one years ago when on tv and am waiting to watch new one when it comes on demand.Your blog is terrific and I,m sure all those pirate watching readers will especially enjoy all your information.xx
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Thanks Sharon for your detailed comment….it’s true, not everyone is a pirate movie fan. That is why I appreciate you for reading the blog despite the fact that these types of movies hold very little interest for you. However, you never know, they may appeal to you one day in the future. LOL You are a good friend xx Let me know, what you think of the movies on demand. 😊
There are a lot of gaps in my 1980s movies. I was busy at the time and wasn’t paying much attention to current entertainment. I’d never heard of this film, but will now be on the lookout for it. You made it sound very entertaining.
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Thank you🌷 I did not notice any gaps. I enjoyed your blog too 😊
Very interesting blog. I have always loved pirate movies but never saw Nate and Heyes. Tommy Lee Jones makes a good pirate. He is rough around the edges. He often is cast in tough guy roles and is very believable. I knew he was ivy league educated and like that he is not “Hollywood”. Like you I liked Cutthroat Island very much. I remember recommending it one time when I visited my sister, we watched it and no one else liked it. I was surprised as I thought it was an entertaining movie. You make some good points about the fact that it has a strong woman lead which was probably not accepted at the time. Wonder woman is a whole different level though. What a good movie. Enjoyed your blog very much.
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Thanks,Debbie, for commenting 🌷 I am still surprised when people tell me that they didn’t like Cutthroat Island. As far as pirate movies goes, I like it very much. Yes, Tommy Lee Jones is so good in anything but he really captures the essence of a great pirate LOL😊
Thank you so much for joining in with the review and the history. What a cast! Sounds very interesting.
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Thank you Fritzi🌷
You have been amazing. I really appreciate the lovely tweet you made. You are so incredible at everything you have written; and, your expertise in your analysis of film, silent, is perfection🎬🎥😊
I couldn’t believe my luck: someone has reviewed a favorite film of mine that I thought too obscure/forgotten for the MS Swashathon! Thank you for the comprehensive (and thoroughly enjoyable) Nate and Hayes review!
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Thank you Marie for your kind comment🌷 I too have a soft place in my heart for this movie. I am happy you were pleased by it😊
Your detailed research about movies never ceases to amaze me, Katrina! Great blog post!
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I feel the same way about your blogs and research too. I hope the rewrite of your book is going well. I admire your determination to complete it. I can’t wait to read it xx
Hi Katrina. I don’t remember that movie being in the theaters. You make me want to find it. Have you seen the Burt Lancaster movie His Majesty O’Keefe? Bully Hayes turns up in that one.
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No, I didn’t know about the character of Bully Heyes turning up there. Thank you for letting me know. I have to watch it now. Thank you so much gotta commenting 😊
Sorry Joe, I accidentally key some keys before I sent this message (gotta should not be there). I meant to say: thank you so much for commenting. I really do appreciate the information. I hope you have a great day😊