The Black Pirate (1926, Albert Parker) – Screening Programme Notes

In this classic swashbuckler a young sailor (Douglas Fairbanks) is the only survivor of an attack by pirates. Seeking revenge for the death of his father the sailor joins the pirate band responsible and tries to destroy them from within. Proving his worth by single-handedly capturing a ship in a daring feat of bravado the sailor eventually becomes known as the Black Pirate. Matters are complicated however when the pirates capture a beautiful princess (Billie Dove) and the Black Pirate must put himself at risk to keep her safe from harm.

Jane Gardner – Pianist

Jane has accompanied screenings of silent movies in London at the Barbican Centre and the National Film Theatre. This is her second appearance at The Station after accompanying a screening of The General (1926, Buster Keaton) in January.

Douglas Fairbanks (1883-1939)

There’s a great story about Douglas Fairbanks which emphasises the playfulness and remarkable agility of this legendary Hollywood star. While filming Robin Hood (1922, Allan Dwan) the producers forbade Fairbanks from performing an elaborate stunt. The sequence involved Robin riding towards a castle, then holding on to the drawbridge as it is raised, jumping on to a chain and climbing 50 feet up the front of the set. A stuntman was hired and seemingly performed the stunt with aplomb. Until it dawned on the production crew the stunt man was standing next to them watching the show. The figure waving to them from above was the real Doug Fairbanks.

Physically graceful with a gift for comedy Fairbanks quickly became a popular star in Hollywood. An early highlight is the short comedy The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916, Christy Cabanne, John Emerson) a Sherlock Holmes spoof with Fairbanks as a detective who uses cocaine for inspiration and solves a crime involving an inflatable beach toy.

In 1919 Fairbanks, his lover Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffiths, and Charlie Chaplin formed the studio United Artists to give themselves more artistic independence. Fairbanks took a huge risk by producing the swashbuckler The Mark of Zorro (1921, Fred Niblo). Nobody had tried anything like this before. In case it failed Fairbanks made a backup film, an ingenious slapstick comedy called The Nut (Theodore Reed 21) about an eccentric inventor.

Zorro was a huge success and turned Fairbanks into the most bankable star around. Fairbanks continued in this vein playing D’Artagnan in The Three Musketeers (21) with Niblo again directing. There quickly followed Robin Hood (22, Dwan), The Thief of Baghdad (24, Raoul Walsh), Don Q: Son of Zorro (25, Donald Crisp), The Black Pirate, and D’Artagnan again in The Iron Mask (29, Dwan).

Aware of cinema’s growing cultural importance. Fairbanks helped create the USCLA’S film programme. An innovator onscreen and off he was one of the first to experiment with sound though the technology wasn’t quite ready for The Iron Mask.  Fairbanks first Talkie saw him delivering iambic pentameter in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew (30, Sam Taylor). His career eventually tailed off and after his marriage to Pickford broke up Fairbanks moved to England. There was one last hurrah in The Private Life of Don Juan (34, Alexander Korda) with Fairbanks as the great lover realising his swashbuckling days are coming to an end.

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