Original release: March 8th, 1926
Running time: 94 minutes
Director: Albert Parker
Writer: Jack Cunningham
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Billie Dove
Mention a swashbuckling adventure with pirates and most people today will think you’re talking about Captain Jack Sparrow and the Pirates Of The Caribbean movies. But long before Johnny Depp, there were already some screen pirates, including the swashbuckling silent screen legend, Douglas Fairbanks, who also appeared in classics such as The Thief of Baghdad (1924), Robin Hood (1922) and The Mark of Zorro (1920).
In The Black Pirate, Fairbanks plays Michel, an aristocrat and the Duke of Arnoldo who joins a pirate crew to avenge his father’s death. To prove he’s one of them, he assumes the name “The Black Pirate” and sets about to single-handedly capture a merchant ship. Being careful not to damage it or harm its crew, he discovers a beautiful woman, Isobel (Billie Dove), on board.
While the other pirates want to have their wicked way with her, Michel comes up with a plan to stall them from “ravaging” her, but he knows it’s only a matter of time before they realise he’s not really one of them. Filled with lots of action and dare-devil stunts, The Black Pirate trudges along really nicely and the film benefits a lot from the 35mm two colour Technicolor format which was still relatively new to filmmakers.
There’s a great moment when Michel sticks a knife into one of the sails and then proceeds to slide down it as it rips through, creating one of cinema’s earliest thrilling scenes. It has however been noted that by this time Fairbanks was posing more often in his films than acting, still it didn’t put off too many of his fans and the film was a success.
A black and white version of the film also exists, and it’s a ‘Talkie Version’ too, narrated by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Added later on, it reflects the trend at the time to rework popular silent films with the newly available sound technology. I prefer the two tone colour version because it’s just fascinating to watch something from this early period in filmmaking in such bold colours, but they both have their draws if you’re interested in cinema history.
The Black Pirate remains a film that’s still looked back on for its innovative techniques in filmmaking and for its star. It’s a classic tale of romance and adventure with Fairbanks in fine form as the charismatic, quick thinking showman, setting the stage for Errol Flynn a decade later when he starred in Captain Blood (1935).
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
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