Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Black Swan--the movie

The 1940s were a good year for films based on Rafael Sabatini novels that don't really resemble the original novel. 1940 gave us The Sea Hawk, which was a completely original story with a Sabatini title attached to it. Normally, this would be annoying and disappointing, but the film is so much pure fun it takes away your right to complain.

In 1942, 20th Century Fox gave us The Black Swan, with Tyrone Power buckling his swashes as the protagonist. To be fair, there are a few things drawn from the book still here: A villainous pirate named Leech still sails on a ship called the Black Swan. Events still revolve around former pirate Henry Morgan now being a governor with a commission to stamp out piracy. And the hero at one point is forced to claim he's married to the girl he's protecting and improvise a story when captured by Leech.

But where that last event was what really began the story in the novel, it's used instead to set up a completely different climax at the end of the movie. The hero is now rogue-ish ex-pirate Jamie Waring rather than gentlemanly privateer Charles de Bernis and the bulk of the plot is completely original.

But, as with The Sea Hawk, this is just fine. The Black Swan is a movie made up of 110% pure fun. Henry Morgan--supposedly taken back to England to be hanged--shows up back in the Caribbean with a blanket pardon for any pirate who turns honest. Leech and his crew refuses, but Jamie Waring is drunk enough when the offer is made to accept. Soon after, Morgan must send Jamie out after Leech. Along the way, Jamie has fallen in love with Lady Margaret--who looks just like Maureen
O'Hara, so you really can't blame him.

Of course, Jamie's romantic endeavors might be more successful if Lady Margaret didn't loath him and wasn't already engaged to someone else. Then again, her romantic plans might stand a better chance of leading to happiness if the man she's engaged to wasn't selling secret information to Leech.

It's a fine story, backed up by great effects (the ship miniatures were built on a 1-inch to 1-foot scale, making them large enough to look awesomely realistic on camera) and some Oscar-winning cinematography. The movie is one of those few cases where I agree that color was a better choice than black-and-white.

Topping all this off are the performances. Everyone involved seemed to fully embrace the fact that they were in a pirate movie and all of them chewed the scenery magnificently. Tyrone Power, George Sanders (Leech), and Laird Cregar (Morgan) all seem to be trying to outdo each other in being as hammy as possible--but this is a movie where overacting is exactly what was needed to pull the story together. Any subtlety in their performances would have been out-of-place here. It's particularly fun to see George Sanders--who normally played suave, urbane roles--sport a Beard of Manliness while going to town as the crudely evil Leech.

That concludes our two-part look at the book and the movie version of The Black Swan. I think that at some point in the next few months, I'll do the same thing with The Sea Hawk, because one can never have too much swashbuckling in one's life.

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