1980s Forgotten Swashbuckling Adventure Made Pirates Of The Caribbean Before Disney

By Brian Myers | Published

Hollywood produced a bevy of swashbuckling sagas from the earliest days of film, but these films seem to have reached their peak after the 1940s. Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn, and Charles Laughton captivated audiences by either playing pirates or their pursuers in classic films like The Black Swan, The Sea Hawk, and Jamaica Inn. In 1983, Paramount Pictures attempted to resurrect the genre with its film Nate and Hayes, though the effort went underappreciated by audiences at the time who largely ignored a great entry into the genre.

Tommy Lee Jones As A Pirate

Nate and Hayes follows the capture of a ship full of missionaries by pirate Bully Hayes (Tommy Lee Jones). On board the newly commandeered vessel is Nathanial Williamson (Michael O’Keefe) and his fianc√© Sophie (Jenny Seagrove). While Hayes and missionary Nate are at first at odds, they unite together as a single force to find Sophie after she is kidnapped by the notorious Ben Pease (Max Phipps), who plans to sell the young woman into slavery.

Different Time And Setting From The Usual Swashbuckler

Nate and Hayes is an action-adventure tale set in the South Pacific. It is a great film that uses pirates from the end of an era in which they are romanticized. The film takes place in the late 19th century, long past nearly every other pirate film’s period, and shows players on both sides of the coin using weapons that are much more modern than swords and flint-lock pistols.

Based On Real-Life Figures

Like many swashbuckling sagas, Nate and Hayes had central characters that were based on real-life historical figures. And like most of the figures portrayed in these films, the real men that both Bully Hayes and Ben Pease are modeled after are pretty terrible examples of human beings. We get the sense that the real Pease was problematic, but the reality is that Hayes was just as bad, if not worse than his cinematic counterpart.

Bully Hayes and Ben Pease were both blackbirders, a term used to describe seamen who coerced Pacific Islanders into serving as laborers on plantations in English settlements. Unlike slaves taken from African peoples, blackbirding did not always involve the capture or purchase of people for slave labor, but the end result was often the same. Many people who were blackbirded were led to jobs under false pretenses, only to discover upon arrival that they were stuck there and forced to perform labor jobs, sometimes against their will.

Real Life Fates

The real Bully Hayes may have killed Ben Pease at sea. No one is certain of Pease’s fate, though some historical accounts surmise that when the two men were operating a vessel together, Hayes killed Pease and knocked his body overboard. And while the film Nate and Hayes depicts a different ending for Pease, the film certainly leaves out the real fate of Bully Hayes.

Bully Hayes is said to have been killed aboard the vessel Lotus, the victim of a bludgeoning by a cook named Peter Radeck. But as the real Bully Hayes was so disliked, his murder not only went unpunished, Radeck was also treated as a hero of sorts. That’s a far cry from the film version of Hayes that helps save the day in Nate and Hayes.

Rent Today On Multiple Services


Despite the whitewashed history of Bully Hayes in the movie, Nate and Hayes is a fun film that has been undeservedly forgotten. The film received mixed reviews from critics and had a poor reception at the box office, as audiences were much more into horror films and big-budget action movies at the time of its release. The acting is solid, the plotline predictable but enjoyable, and the sets are a sight to behold.

Nate and Hayes is a 3.5/5.0-star film and one that is hopefully appreciated by a new generation of audiences. You might not get the big-budget effects or sets of any of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, but you’ll certainly see a film that’s worth cherishing.

Nate and Hayes can be rented through Vudu and Amazon Prime Video or purchased with Prime and AppleTV.