Douglas Fairbanks was one of the biggest stars of silent films, right up there with Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, though he was known for starring in notably different genres than the other two. As a swashbuckling star, there were few classic stories involving swordplay that Fairbanks didn’t star in during his period of extreme popularity with audiences. Cohen Film Collection has recently released two double feature Blu-rays, each containing a pair of classic films from Fairbanks’ filmography. These releases are perfect for fans of Fairbanks as well as those who have yet to discover the incredible scope of silent swashbuckling action/adventure films.
The first double feature is a pair of films with connected narratives, each based on novels written by Alexandre Dumas. The first is The Three Musketeers (1921), in which Fairbanks plays d'Artagnan, a young man gifted in the way of the sword with goals of joining the king’s Musketeers. D'Artagnan initially gets into altercations with each of the Musketeers, Athos (Léon Bary), Porthos (George Siegmann), and Aramis (Eugene Pallette), but wins them over by joining them in a fight against the guardsmen of Cardinal Richelieu (Nigel De Brulier).
The Three Musketeers is a perfect example of the type of classic narrative that Fairbanks brought to life onscreen for audiences at the beginning of the twentieth century. He grew a moustache to play the role, which he kept for the remainder of his film career. The success of The Three Musketeers also led to the sequel film that was also based on the work of Dumas, The Iron Mask (1929), which brought back cast members and the iconic swashbuckling characters for a new adventure. Although much of the film is still silent, there were a couple of talking scenes with direct-address narration by Fairbanks.
This film also increases the scope with a narrative taking place over a long period of time, involving a plot to overtake King Louis XIII (Rolfe Sedan) with the use of his disenfranchised twin brother (William Bakewell). The Musketeers are split up and only come back together years later when they realize there is a plot to overtake the king’s throne. The narrative is taken from the last section from The Vicomte de Bragelonne, which is based on the French legend of the Man in the Iron Mask. Both The Three Musketeers and The Iron Mask have been given new restorations by Cohen Media Group, in association with Photoplay Productions. There are no special features for this double feature.
The second double feature release includes two different types of swordplay spectacle: an early adaptation of Robin Hood and a colorized pirate film. Robin Hood (1922) was originally copyrighted under the title Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood, showing the significance of his stardom on the film’s release. With that being said, the scope of Robin Hood is what remains impressive even by today’s standards. At the time it was one of the most expensive Hollywood productions, costing about a million dollars and included the constructions of massive castle and 12th-century village sets.
The Black Pirate (1926) is a silent film shot in two-color Technicolor about a Duke (Fairbanks) who infiltrates a company of pirates to get revenge for the death of his father. After becoming the Black Pirate, the hero played by Fairbanks works to undermine the control of the captain of the pirates (Anders Randolf). The plans for revenge are complicated when the company of pirates overtakes a ship with a princess (Billie Dove) and the Black Pirate must risk exposing himself to protect her.
The scope of The Black Pirate may not be as impressive as Robin Hood, but the color photography adds a welcome new element to the spectacle. This film also comes with a surprising number of extras, including a commentary track with film historian Rudy Behlmer, who also provides commentary on 18 minutes of outtakes. There are an additional 29 minutes of outtakes also included.
Entertainment Value: 7.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 9/10
Historical Significance: 10/10
Special Features: 7/10