Monday, May 06, 2024

Tonight's Movie: The Black Pirate (1926) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Last year Kino Lorber released a wonderful two-film Blu-ray set of silent Douglas Fairbanks (Sr.) swashbucklers in their Cohen Film Collection line.

The one-disc set consists of ROBIN HOOD (1922) paired with THE BLACK PIRATE (1926).

The set arrived in October right around the time I was attending the Lone Pine Film Festival, and as occasionally happens, it kept moving further down the review stack as I reviewed in "last in, first out" fashion.

I wanted to be certain to finally start catching up with this disc before leaving town to cover my next film festival this week! I decided to start with the less familiar story, THE BLACK PIRATE (1926), and I'm happy to say I really enjoyed it.

The opening narrative card promises "A page from The History and Lives of the most Bloodthirsty PIRATES who ever infested THE SOUTHERN SEAS," and they certainly are that! I confess I was a bit taken aback by just how violent it was, as the pirates tie up prisoners, then blow them all up along with their ship.  

The Duke of Arnaldo (Fairbanks) manages to escape and carries his dying father to a small island; after his father passes, the duke -- now the lone survivor of the attack -- pledges to avenge his death.

Fate smiles on the Duke when the Pirate Captain (Anders Randolf) and crew members land on the island to bury some of their loot. The Duke decides to infiltrate the crew, posing as a pirate himself.

He succeeds, but matters grow dicey after he single-handedly captures a ship whose passengers include lovely Isobel (Billie Dove). The Duke has to think fast to find a way to save her virtue and prevent another mass killing, as well as eventually defeat the entire crew.  Will he succeed?

This was an exciting, well-paced 96 minutes. (Incidentally, IMDb incorrectly has the time as 88 minutes.) Fairbanks wrote the story, ensuring a perfect showcase for his abilities, and he's seen at his athletic best; the scene where he slides down a sail as he slices it with his knife is truly spectacular.

Incidentally, as has been noted elsewhere, Gene Kelly's costume in the Pirate Ballet in THE PIRATE (1948) seems to emulates Fairbanks' pirate outfit.

Fairbanks pairs well with Dove, who initially seems to be the fainting type but who proves her mettle helping to save the Duke near the movie's climax. Curiously, it's said to be Fairbanks' then-wife, Mary Pickford, standing in for Dove to kiss him at movie's end.

Fairbanks and Pickford are well supported by Donald Crisp as a sympathetic one-armed pirate, MacTavish, and Charles Belcher as a nobleman the Duke recruits to bring aid from the governor.

An essay written a few years ago by Jeffrey Vance for the San Francisco Silent Film Festival indicates that while some filming, including the climax, took place on Catalina Island, most of the exteriors were filmed at the Pickford-Fairbanks Studios.

The movie, which was directed by Albert Parker, was filmed by Henry Sharp in two-strip Technicolor, which is an added pleasure. For the Blu-ray a 35mm color negative was mastered in HD.

Vance also comments that the filmmakers' goal had been subdued colors, "to make a pirate picture that would seem to spectators as something that had been down in the cellars for 300 years." They certainly succeeded, as the film has a unique, distinctive two-strip look -- it's quite different in appearance, for example, from the bright oranges and greens of the two-strip FOLLOW THRU (1930) a few years later.

The film is presented with a recording conducted by Robert Israel of the film's original 1926 score by Mortimer Wilson.

The disc includes a vintage audio commentary by the late, revered historian Rudy Behlmer; 18 minutes of outtakes with commentary by Behlmer; and 29 minutes of additional outtakes. I'm looking forward to delving into those!

I also look forward to watching ROBIN HOOD soon, and in the meantime THE BLACK PIRATE is very much recommended.


Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older