The Black Pirate - 1926
The Black Pirate - released March 8, 1926. Directed by Albert Parker.
Epic swashbuckling pirate movie shot in 2-strip technicolor. The sets are frequently enormous and reflect the scope possible in the early years of Hollywood before production costs, the American economic depression of the 30's and sound technology changed movie-making forever.
Fairbanks leaps, swings, slides downward through canvas sails on the edge of a knife, and laughs his way through this tale which begins tragically; he and his father are marooned by pirates, his father mortally wounded in the stomach where he had tried to hide a piece of jewelry by swallowing it - the pirates cut it out of his stomach. After his father's death, the son begins to execute a plan to settle the scales of justice and to win the freedom of the pirate-captive Princess Isobel (Billie Dove) in the process.
The pirates are portrayed as a ruthless bunch, though a few hold to an unusual ethical standard that allows Fairbanks character (Duke Arnoldo) to manipulate them until he has become their leader (though much counter-plotting is going on around him) and he has a narrow window of time in which to land the pirates in chains, save the princess (who he in fact is not sure is a princess, he actually made up the story of her nobility so that the pirates would hold her for ransom and not assault her.)
The film is plentiful with stunts and fighting, and Fairbanks provides a great number of these visual feats. The plot and it's pressure-cooker element in which Fairbank's Lord Arnoldo must pull off his plan by a certain designated time (or the pirates can attack Princess Isobel and sail away with their captured booty) means Fairbanks has to be almost everywhere at once, which he accomplishes by manic energy.
The 2-strip technicolor provides a depth-of-field for the action sequences that would have been difficult, or impossible, in black and white. It also presents a remarkable underwater swimming scene that is an impressive special effect for any film before the 1950s when underwater photography had achieved techniques for below the surface clarity.
The Black Pirate lays down the template for innumerable pirate films which have been made since, and certain films are directly related to Fairbanks' magnum-opus (such as Lancaster's 1952 The Crimson Pirate). Even Disney's long-running Pirates of the Caribbean movies are obviously derived from the basic outlines shown in this 1926 epic.
Original Page March 29, 2016
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