O'Flynn, soldier of fortune, returns to Ireland during the Napoleonic wars just in time to save Lady Benedetta from robbers. But they pursue her to ruinous Castle O'Flynn, after secret papers she carries which would reveal Napoleon's plans to invade Ireland. The Napoleonic agents (and British traitors) will stop at nothing to gain their ends, but the swashbuckling exploits of the O'Flynn may be a match for them all Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Not a lot of people are familiar with The Fighting O'Flynn and for good reason. It's one of those Universal-owned productions of the 1940s that is, for the most part, frustratingly inaccessible today. I've only seen it because of a video recording made of the film when it was once broadcast on AMC.
And that's a shame, for this light hearted costume adventure, produced by Universal-International and star Douglas Fairbanks Jr.'s own company is a surprisingly entertaining affair, chock-full of outrageous heroics and good natured humour.
Fairbanks plays a charming Irish soldier-of-fortune returned to his native land from world travels at the picture's beginning in order to claim his inheritance from an uncle, Castle O'Flynn. On his way he encounters a beauty in a carriage who is besieged by what appear to be bandits.
O'Flynn single handedly saves her from these scoundrels, setting up the thin story line of the film involving spies and traitors and a plot by Napoleon to set up a base in Ireland preceding an invasion of England. And just how does poor Napoleon think that he's going to succeed if he has to take on an Irish rogue like O'Flynn?
It's a fairly handsome production, lensed in black-and-white, with nice sets and matte paintings of castles in the background. The cast is engaging and likable. Fairbanks, of course, is the dashing lead, and he gives a buoyant, enthusiastic performance, with a hint of an Irish accent that comes and goes.
Fairbanks' acting is fairly broad at times, not entirely unlike his earlier effort as Sinbad the Sailor, undoubtedly with his father's silent acting technique kept in mind, to a degree (though he was, in fact, a far more diversified actor than his father, having performed throughout the years in various films genres, aside from adventure).
It's interesting to compare Fairbanks' theatrical ever-smiling characterization to Errol Flynn's portrait of Don Juan, done about the same time. Flynn is cynical and quite subtle (a great performance in my opinion, even if he was physically past his prime), while Fairbanks is upbeat, optimistic and full of broad physical gestures.
There's a fun sequence set in a tavern in which the bragging Fairbanks is challenged to a duel by the film's chief villain, a smooth, elegant traitor, played by Richard Greene. Greene, however, is fairly drunk at this moment so Fairbanks, to even the score, proceeds to consume a large amount of liquor before starting the fight.
He overdoes it, however. In fact, he now sees two Richard Greenes standing before him. So Greene, to show that he, too, is a good sport about this duelling business, has some more beer, before the two start to have a fairly wild swinging saber fight. Perhaps this is a keen illustration of a duel that is not very good intentionally since both its protagonists are thoroughly looped. It also helps to cover up the fact that neither actor was particularly proficient with a sword in the first place. Only in this duel, that's okay.
The Fighting O'Flynn works its way up to an over-the-top climax on a castle battlement with swords clashing, rockets firing into a night sky, and Fairbanks triumphing single-handedly over five or six opponents. All very silly, of course, but also a lot of fun. And that's what a film like this is all about. This was Fairbanks' last costume adventure, and he went out with a good one.
There's a scene near the film's beginning in which Fairbanks, who often seems to be carrying a shillelagh in his hand, first sights his inherited castle. There's a low camera angle peering up at the actor as he beams a wide smile, extends both arms wide open to each side and enthusiastically proclaims, "Castle O'Flynn!!!" I smiled very broadly at this. There's no doubt that son was paying homage to his father then. It could have been right out of The Black Pirate. It's a moment that is pure Doug Fairbanks Senior.
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