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A nobleman vows to avenge the death of his father at the hands of pirates. To this end he infiltrates the pirate band. Acting in character he is instrumental in the capture of a ship, but things are complicated when he finds that there is a young woman on board whom he wishes to protect from the threat of rape. Written by
David Chappell <David.Chappell@mail.trincoll.edu>
A wonderfully acrobatic Douglas Fairbanks Snr., entertains!
Douglas Fairbanks Snr., can quite fairly be given credit for the first movie action star. 'The Black Pirate' has a number of sequences which highlight his magnificent athletic ability. I found myself marveling at the extended sequence where he seizes a merchant ship singlehandedly. What strength and skill, what agility and courage! I loved watching him scale the stern of the ship and was extremely impressed by his cutting open of the sails from top to bottom with a knife. Some of the work was quite funny and you could tell that the filmed footage was being shown in reverse but that doesn't stop the stunts themselves from being extremely entertaining. He's got more guts than me, I'll say that much!
'The Black Pirate' is difficult to evaluate. Do we grade a film based upon:
a) other pirate films b) silent films c) on a general level of enjoyment against all films
As a silent film, and for that matter a two strip Technicolor silent film, 'The Black Pirate' is a landmark for innovation. Fairbanks had misgivings about the use of colour but felt a pirate film MUST be shown in colour. He gets great benefit. There is a great deal of implied violence (duh, a pirate film!) and the bright red colour of blood is almost shocking to see. There's a scene where a captive tries to hide a ring he's wearing by swallowing it. Unfortunately for him he's seen. After a little off camera ... searching... for the ring, a pirate presents a bloodied ring in bloodied hands as he wipes a bloodied dagger on his tunic to the captain. Pretty thrilling stuff for the 1920's. This was also a film where very serious philosophy and training were put to great effect with the fencing. You can see how it out-steps a lot of earlier swordplay films and influenced the style in films that would follow. According to film historian Rudy Behlmer on an excellent commentary track with the Kino DVD, the fencing master hired by Fairbanks became a staple of the industry. Many of the great sword fight movies from the next 25 years were his handiwork -- including 'The Adventures of Robin Hood,' and 'Captain Blood.'
Against other pirate films, 'The Black Pirate' has perhaps more value as a curiosity. Even by the late 1930's and 40's it was being outdistanced by Errol Flynn films like 'Captain Blood' and 'The Seahawk,' Tyrone Power in 'The Black Swan,' or Burt Lancaster in 'The Crimson Pirate.' Today it gets totally wiped off the board by the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' series. Though still fun to watch, these later films are better and more enjoyable.
This is definitely worth tracking down on the Kino DVD if you can find it. Rudy Behlmer has an excellent commentary track that is of great value to people who are interested in early Hollywood and Douglas Fairbanks. I recommend it highly for the student or the general enthusiast based upon that reason. And it is a good movie to! 'The Black Pirate' has a great sense of adventure to it with thrilling stunt work. Silent movie fans shouldn't be disappointed. Fans of pirate movies should give it a try to see what helped popularize the genre.
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