Pirates, Myths and A Swashbuckling Blogathon: Nate and Heyes (1983)

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.

1983 Nate and Hayes (1983)_32

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).