The Black Pirate [US 1926]

Info: I embedded the full movie below.

THE PLOT

The Black Pirate is a silent adventure movie about how a Duke became part of a pirate crew. After a vicious attack by pirates, he is the sole survivor and is washed up on a deserted island. There, he witnesses the pirate leaders hiding their treasure in a secret cave. Because his father was also murdered by the pirates, he vows to bring them to justice. He pretends to join the crew, defeats the captain in a sword fight, and takes a merchant ship single-handedly. However, as he wants to spare the lives of the people on board, he convinces his fellow men to hold the ship for ransom. Because they decide to make him leader as soon as the ransom ship comes back, his second-in-command plots against him. But the Duke, now known as the “Black Pirate” has plans of his own to save the merchant ship and its crew.

WHAT I LIKE

The movie is well-produced and features large set pieces, e.g. the opening attack scene looks marvelous. In addition, there are many extras and in consequences the attack scenes look thrilling. Considering its age, the movie looks great, as it was shot in two-color Technicolor. This means that a certain range of colors can be reproduced, which works nicely with colors like green, red, or brown and gives the movie a memorable look. The few swords fights are well-choreographed, especially the first fight, and Fairbanks delivers a generally elegant performance, like in e.g., Robin Hood [1922] or The Thief of Bagdad [1924]. And while all side characters don’t come close to him performance-wise, they still do a solid job (e.g., the one-armed pirate).

WHAT I DON’T LIKE

Although it can be compared to other “swashbuckler” movies and action adventure vehicles for Fairbanks, there are some shortcomings regarding the action sequences in this movie. The stunt work is good, however, not as distinguished as in The Thief of Bagdad [1924] and the sword fights are few and far between – especially in the frantic last fight. Also, the plot is rather conventional, featuring classic tropes (i.e., the Damsel in Distress) and a kind of Deus ex Machina ending that could have been resolved less cheesy. Lastly, the score, based on the original 1926 score by Mortimer Wilson, is rather unremarkable and never really intensifies the atmosphere.

THE VERDICT

The Black Pirate is a silent adventure movie about a man who infiltrates a pirate crew to bring justice to the men who killed his father. It features great set pieces and boasts generally high production values, however, apart from the frantic finale, there are only few action sequences. The performances and the stunt work are often great, which is why the movie is very entertaining. Apart from being one of the earliest color movies with a broad release, the movie is still very influential (e.g., the sliding down the sails scene). The plot is rather conventional, and the ending clichéd, but considering its age and impact, The Black Pirate is still very entertaining and fun throughout.

Overall 7/10

INTERESTING FACTS

 – The movie was visually influenced by “Book of Pirates” by Howard Pyle (1853-1911).

 – The script was adapted by Jack Cunningham from a story Fairbanks had written in 1920 or 1921 under the pseudonym “Elton Thomas”.

 – Donald Crisp, in addition to playing the part of MacTavish, was also set to direct the movie – as he had previously directed Don Q Son of Zorro [1925]. However, after a falling out with Fairbanks, he was replaced by Albert Parker after a few days of shooting.

 – The sail sliding scene was replicated in other pirate movies, most notably, Against All Flags [1952], Rage of the Buccaneers [1961], The Goonies [1985], and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest [2006]. However, in the series MythBusters, the stunt was declared implausible

 – The two-tone Technicolor at that time required two strips of film to be fused together to create the full color palette, thus making the movies expensive and problematic for untrained projectionists. Therefore, Fairbanks was forced to also issue a black-and-white version by the studio.

 – Douglas Fairbanks Jr. issued a restoration of The Black Pirate by the British National Film Archive, which was finished in 1972. The 2013 Blu-ray release also used some black-and-white outtakes and test footage that was later found.

 – After The Toll of the Sea [1922] and Ben Hur [1925], this was the third two-tone Technicolor movie. However, Fairbanks also thought the colors in these movies too distracting, which is why The Black Pirate looks less vibrant.

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