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The Black Pirate

The Black Pirate

By Patrick Samuel • June 25th, 2013
Static Mass Rating: 4/5
United Artists

Original release: March 8th, 1926
Running time: 94 minutes

Director: Albert Parker
Writer: Jack Cunningham

Cast: Douglas Fairbanks, Billie Dove

The Black Pirate

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).

“Perhaps the most common image people have of Douglas Fairbanks today is his character from The Black Pirate. It is an especially dashing Fairbanks, with a head of tick, black, curly hair, an earring, short pants, a torn shirt, and seven-league boots turned over at the top into cuffs – all of course, in darkest black. He is first seen standing on a ship’s rail, fists on hips, and throwing back his head to give a hearty laugh that allows him to flash his beautiful teeth.” ¹

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.

The Black Pirate

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.

“The Black Pirate was a huge hit, receiving both critical raves and box office patronage. Variety asked a good question, after complaining that the story was little more than an excuse for the action, as to why, if he wanted to make a story, he didn’t use Captain Blood, the famous novel by Rafael Sabatini? That pirate story, said Variety, “was a Fairbanks set up if there was ever was one.”” ¹

  • Jeanine Basinge (2000) Silent Stars, Wesleyan University Press¹

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).

Patrick Samuel

Patrick Samuel

The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is an emerging artist with a philosophy degree, working primarily with pastels and graphite pencils, but he also enjoys experimenting with water colours, acrylics, glass and oil paints.

Being on the autistic spectrum with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is stimulated by bold, contrasting colours, intricate details, multiple textures, and varying shades of light and dark. Patrick's work extends to sound and video, and when not drawing or painting, he can be found working on projects he shares online with his followers.

Patrick returned to drawing and painting after a prolonged break in December 2016 as part of his daily art therapy, and is now making the transition to being a full-time artist. As a spokesperson for autism awareness, he also gives talks and presentations on the benefits of creative therapy.

Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and science fiction, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.

Patrick Samuel ¦ Asperger Artist

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