The West Indies is the favorite cruising ground for boaters from around the world. Many couples dream of selling everything they own, buying a sailboat and cruising the Caribbean. And those of us who have sailed this island chain know just how unique that paradise is. Much of what we imagine the Caribbean to be like has been shaped by movies that we grew up with. Hollywood has been America’s dream factory for the past hundred years and its portrayal of the Caribbean idyll has colored our mind’s eye.
During the 1930s and 1940s, the swashbuckler movies of the Hollywood studio era gave us our first vision of the West Indies. Treasure Island (1934) and The Black Swan (1942) were filled with pirates and corsairs. But in those days, films were shot primarily in the studio or on the back lot with the set designer dressing up a make believe island setting. At best for realism, a California beach would become the background for a sword fight, as Laguna Beach did for Errol Flynn and Basil rathbone in Captain Blood (1935).
It was not until after World War II, that Hollywood producers and directors left the studios to shoot their films on location giving us a taste of what the Caribbean really looked liked. Fire Down Below (1957) was shot in Trinidad and Tobago and The Old Man and the Sea (1958) was partially filmed in Cuba.
Starting in the 1960s, the Caribbean became a very popular setting for films shot on location. Visiting the sites in the West indies where all or parts of movies were filmed is a great way to develop a cruising itinerary for your next sail down island. try these movies for starters:
- Island in the Sun (1957) – This was a very controversial film at the time it was released since the story revolves around interracial romances and race relations. it was produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, entirely on location in Barbados and Grenada. The all-star ensemble cast included harry Belafonte, James Mason, Joan Fontaine, Joan Collins and Dorothy Dandridge.
- Dr. No (1962) – Sean Connery portrays 007 in the first James Bond film ever made, with Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder, the model for all future “Bond girls”. This film established all the well-known
styles of the James Bond series including an elaborate main title sequence followed by the introduction of Mr. Bond through a view down the barrel of a gun. This movie also launched the secret agent genre for both film and television. Set in Jamaica, much of the film was shot in Oracabessa, a small town east of Ocho Rios, and Kingston. But the most iconic scene was filmed at Laughing Waters Beach, near Dunn’s River Falls. That is where Honey Ryder emerged from the surf in a white bikini.
- Dr. Dolittle (1967) – Rex Harrison has the lead role in this musical as a physician who believes he can talk to animals. The other stars, not including all the animals, are Samantha Eggar and Anthony Newley. The tropical island scenes were filmed at Marigot Bay, St. Lucia. A very kitschy giant pink snail was built for the final scene shot in the bay, and left there as a memento of the production but looked quite out of place as the years went by.
- Water (1985) – This comedy, starring Michael Caine and Valerie Perrine was a box office flop. Ex-Beatle, George Harrison, was the movie’s producer and Harrison, Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr perform on the soundtrack. The major redeeming value of this film is the spectacular scenery in and around the town of Soufriere, St. Lucia as it looked 40 years ago.
- The Shawshank Redemption (1994) – Only the final beach scene of this critically acclaimed movie was filmed in the Caribbean. After 40 years in prison, Red (Morgan Freeman) searches for and finds Andy (Tim Robbins) in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. In the plot line, Andy had escaped Shawshank Penitentiary and settled in Zihuatanejo. But St. Croix, USVI was used as a stand in for Mexico; that beach scene was shot at Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, just south of Frederiksted.
- Speed 2: Cruise Control (1997) – While this film won the award for “Worst Re-Make or Sequel”, the final scene, in which a cruise ship crashes into the island of Saint Martin, set the record for the most expensive and largest stunt ever filmed. It was shot at Marigot, the waterside capital of French St. Martin. Six month’s was needed to build an addition to the town that was used for the filming, only to be destroyed by a hurricane before the production started. It was rebuilt, and a full scale mock up of the bow of a cruise ship was towed down from Florida, put on underwater rails, and crashed into the town, all for about $50 million.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) – What’s old becomes new in Hollywood, and everything comes full circle. Swashbuckler movies returned to the big screen with this first in a collection of fantasy films starring Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow. For this film, the anchorage at Wallilabou Bay, St. Vincent was transformed into the movie set of old Port Royal, Jamaica.
That’s my list of films with Caribbean island locations that I enjoy, what’s yours? Before you head down island, download your favorite Caribbean movies to yourtablet. You can watch them along the way, and they will help you discover the locations of those island movie sets.
Capt. Jeff Werner has been in the yachting industry for over 25 years. In addition to working as a captain on private and charter yachts, both sail and power, he is a certified instructor for the USCG, US Sailing, RYA and the MCA. He is also the Diesel Doctor, helping to keep your yacht’s fuel in optimal condition for peak performance. For more information, call 239-246-6810, or visit MyDieselDoctor.com. All Marinalife members receive a 10% discount on purchases of equipment, products and supplies from Diesel Doctor.