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A New Trove of Fairbanks Treasures

June 07, 1996|SUSAN KING | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kino on Video follows up its award-winning 1995 collection, "The Art of Buster Keaton," with the release Tuesday of the delightful "Douglas Fairbanks: King of Hollywood" set.

This marvelous collection consists of 12 Fairbanks features ($25 each), seven of which have never been available before on video. Produced for Kino by David Shepard of Film Preservation Associates, all the films have been restored and digitally mastered.

(The collection's "The Thief of Bagdad," "The Mark of Zorro," "Don Q, Son of Zorro," "Flirting With Fate" and "The Matrimaniac" have previously been released).

Fairbanks was the first swashbuckling superstar of films. And watching him some 81 years after he made his film debut, Fairbanks still outshines most contemporary action figures.

A Broadway performer when he came to Hollywood in 1915, his first 26 pictures were a mixture of popular satires, westerns and dream-fantasies. But Fairbanks, who founded United Artists with second wife Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith, is best known and loved for the series of classic adventures he starred in and produced (he also wrote several under the name Elton Thomas) during the '20s.

What made Fairbanks such a tremendous presence on the screen? He had a grin that wouldn't quit, charisma to spare, a devil-may-care attitude and incredible energy. With catlike agility and grace, Fairbanks leaped over tables, flew through windows and scampered over rooftops. And he was marvelously sexy to boot.

The seven new-to-video features include his early comedies and his beloved period pieces.

Fairbanks is riotously funny in the 1920 comedy "The Mollycoddle" as an American dandy who is mistaken for a secret agent. On the same tape is 1916's fast-paced black comedy "Flirting With Fate."

In 1921's "The Nut," which is filled to the brim with brilliant sight gags, Fairbanks plays an eccentric Greenwich Village inventor. Included on the tape is 1916's "The Matrimaniac."

Among the other new-to-video releases is 1921's infectious "The Three Musketeers" and the sumptuous 1922 epic "Robin Hood."

The highlight is 1926's glorious "The Black Pirate," which has been restored to its original two-strip Technicolor. "The Black Pirate" was the first grand-scale feature ever made in Technicolor and was a huge challenge for the filmmakers. Because the process imperfectly registered natural colors, Fairbanks, the designers, the camerman and Technicolor advisors spent six months mastering every color situation, indoors and out, in natural and artificial light. Using color-coded charts, they painted or dyed every object, prop and costume the proper "hue." Even the actors were color coded for both natural and artificial light.

The video includes 20 minutes of rare outtake footage and stills.

The 1927 "The Gaucho" finds Fairbanks playing a rare immoral character--a swaggering scoundrel with an appetite for adventure, women and money--who finds redemption. Fairbanks also looks like a million bucks in his black-and-silver bolero vest, tunic and pants, jeweled buckles and a coiled bola. The highlight is his red-hot tango with Lupe Velez.

Get out your hankies for 1929's "The Iron Mask," Fairbanks' farewell to the silent film era. He is superb in this heroic tragedy as the aging D'Artagnan who reunites with the Three Musketeers for one final adventure. This video version is the 1952 re-release that features a full orchestral score and narration by Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

Fairbanks made just a few films in the sound era and died in his sleep of a heart attack in 1939 at the age of 56. But as this splendid collection proves, the "King" lives on.

To order call (800) 562-3330.

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Coming Next Week: Harrison Ford and Julia Ormond star in Sydney Pollack's remake of the 1954 classic romantic comedy "Sabrina" (Paramount). Paramount also is releasing a special collector's edition ($15) of the far superior original with Audrey Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and William Holden.

Jane Horrocks stars in "Deadly Advice" (Evergreen), a very black British comedy about a woman who seeks advice from the spirits of famous British murderers (Edward Woodward, Billie Whitlaw, Sir John Mills) on how to kill her domineering mother (Brenda Fricker). Not for all tastes.

Harvey Keitel heads the cast of "Blue in the Face" (Miramax), the improvisational companion film to "Smoke."

Steve Martin, Diane Keaton and Martin Short star in the popular comedy "Father of the Bride II" (Touchstone).

Jean-Claude Van Damme saves the day in the thriller "Sudden Death" (MCA/Universal).

Sandra Bullock and Denis Leary are squabbling lovebirds in "Two If by Sea" (Warner). . . . Also new: "The Journey of August King" (Miramax); "Lawnmower Man 2: Jobe's War" (New Line); "Sugartime"(HBO); "Bio-Dome" (MGM/UA); "A Boy Called Hate" (Paramount).

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