marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,
marycatelli
marycatelli

Swordsmen of the Screen

Swordsmen of the Screen:  From Douglas Fairbanks to Michael York by Jeffrey Richards

A survey of the Hollywood swashbuckler -- and its sources.


It opens with a discussion of how the Romantic impulse evolved into the formal, stylized swashbuckler, how the Code helped the swashbuckler, which with its loyalty to the Throne, fit in nicely.  Then another of the major actors -- Douglas Fairbanks Sr., the unquestioned king of the silent era, and onwards through the decades, Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone -- Fred Cravens, the fencer who made the Olympic team and then was the leading choreographer of Hollywood.  It ends with commenting about Richard Chamberlain in The Man in the Iron Mask as a probably illusionary revival of the swashbuckler, but he sticks to its heyday.  (Perhaps its first?  We've had other swashbucklers since.)

Then he traces the various sources and the films that sprang from them.  Like Dumas, both with the Musketeers, and the Count of Monte Cristo -- though the count generally had to be smoothed off to fit in genre.

Tales of chivalry, preceded with a brief account of medieval chivalry and the widely popular Arthurian romances and their evolution before delving into the swashbuckling accounts -- and the non-Arthurian ones, such as Ivanhoe or Quentin Durward.  Or on the Crusades.  The emphasis on honor fit well into the motifs of the swashbuckler.

The 16th century and putting a gloss on Don Juan to make him serve as a swashbuckler.  The 17th century.  Unsurprisingly, the English Civil War gets treated mostly from the Royalist side.  The 18th century only holds some minor pieces, until we get to the French Revolution and its era.  And the nineteenth, of course, has that masterpiece Prisoner of Zenda.

The French Revolution was, of course, the lead off into the Masked Avengers, what with the Scarlet Pimperal.  It also goes into Zorro and Scarmouche and their imitiators.  The first swashbuckler -- by Doug Fairbanks Sr. -- was a Zorro film and he had in fact one of his contemporaries in the can to be rushed into distribution in case Zorro failed.

A chapter on Robin Hood -- like the chivalry one, he starts with delineating origins.  While he's a bit credulous about the historical Robin Hood, he covers the development well  before the era of film before going through the major, and minor, films about him.  Always, of course, strictly loyal to the king.  A chapter on highwaymen and their films.  Two separate chapters on pirates -- all the rest, and then those of the Spanish Main, and how pirates were whitewashed enough to act as heroes, or not and went to their deaths.  A final chapter on the Arabic numbers, straight swashbucklers enlivened with some props from the Arabian Nights tales.

An interesting overview of the genre.  Definitely worth looking at if you want to know the movies to look for.  (I observe that in the last chapter -- accept no substitutes for the Thief of Bagdad.  The good one is the original, silent version.  It's amazing what special effects could do even then.)
Tags: adventure, ethos, history reviews: across eras, lit crit, myths and legends, non-historical non-fiction reviews
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