Thursday, May 06, 2010

Amy's silent movie reviews :: The Black Pirate (1926)

The Black PirateThe Black Pirate (1926) is an early Technicolor silent movie starring Douglas Fairbanks. In its day, it was a major studio production using a cutting-edge, still experimental technology. The imperfect two-color Technicolor process used predated the much superior three-color process. The Black Pirate is an adventure movie. Even though it has sword fights, action sequences, and several explosions, the pacing may be somewhat slow for modern audiences.

The movie stars Douglas Fairbanks, Billie Dove, Donald Crisp, and Sam De Grasse, and large cast of extras as motley-looking pirates. The Black Pirate was based on a story written by and was produced by Douglas Fairbanks. Running time is 90 minutes.

Pirates take a ship, loot it, and blow up the ship. The lone survivor, Fairbanks, vows revenge. The pirates hide their treasure on the island Fairbanks is marooned on. Fairbanks offers to join the pirates and kills the Captain in a sword fight. To prove himself to the remaining pirates, Fairbanks, now The Black Pirate, boasts that he'll take the next ship single-handed. On the merchant ship that he takes, there is a beautiful princess (Billie Dove).

Fairbanks convinces the pirates to send the merchants back, minus their loot, with a ransom note for the Princess. He also secretly asks the merchants to get help from the Governor. The pirate Lieutenant (Sam De Grasse) is annoyed at Fairbanks usurping his leadership position, changing their pirating routine, and for not allowing him ravish the Princess. The Lieutenant arranges it so that the merchant ship never delivers its message. Fairbanks is caught trying to sneak the Princess off the ship and is forced to walk the plank. But ever resourceful Fairbanks swims to land, gallops off on a stolen horse, and brings reinforcements back to rescue the Princess before ransom deadline. Meanwhile old pirate and comic relief (Donald Crisp) defends the princess from the Lieutenant. The Black Pirate and the Princess fall in love, and Fairbanks' Black Pirate isn't a pirate at all.

Action scenes in The Black Pirate were staged well. Fairbanks cutting the sails was memorably done. I liked how Sam De Grasse played the evil lieutenant in an understated manner, unlike the melodrama of many silent films. Donald Crisp was funny propping himself up with swords and daggers to stay awake. The pirate costumes of the crew and of De Grasse (long blue coat) and Crisp (old one-armed man) were quite good. In contrast, I found Fairbanks' costume of a black low-cut shirt and black shorts anachronistic and frankly ridiculous. But the award for the most ludicrous part goes to the boat Fairbanks arrives on to rescue the Princess, which looks like a cross between a Roman galley and racing scull. The rowers from the boat are wearing what looks like bandoleers and black bicycle shorts, but at least they are clean-cut, unlike the dirty pirates whom they defeat.

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