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Five Classics Full of Soaring Swords

January 24, 2002|SUSAN KING

The swashbuckler genre took off in 1920 with Douglas Fairbanks' dashing turn in "The Mark of Zorro." He continued to demonstrate his athletic dexterity and derring-do in several more films during the decade, including "Don Q, Son of Zorro" and "Robin Hood."

Fairbanks' mantle was taken up in the 1930s by Errol Flynn, and over the years, everyone from Tyrone Power, Richard Chamberlain and George Hamilton to Stewart Granger, Maureen O'Hara and Kevin Costner have proved themselves to be masters of the sword. Here's a look at five of the best swashbucklers ever made

"The Black Pirate": Fairbanks' buckle never swashed brighter than in this 1926 action adventure shot in early two-strip Technicolor. He's at his athletic best in this terrific tale of revenge in which he joins the pirates responsible for his father's death. One of the film's most exhilarating scenes finds Fairbanks sliding down the ship's sail as his dagger slices it in half. Billie Dove and Donald Crisp also star.

"The Adventures of Robin Hood": Errol Flynn became an overnight sensation in Michael Curtiz's action-packed 1935 "Captain Blood." But he really became a superstar in this 1938 film by Curtiz and William Keighley. Full of humor, action, romance and Erich Wolfgang Korngold's evocative score, "Robin Hood" is also one of the most beautiful films--shot in eye-popping Technicolor. There are several memorable action sequences, but the best is Robin Hood's concluding duel with the vile Sir Guy (a wonderful Basil Rathbone).

"The Prisoner of Zenda" Whereas Fairbanks and Flynn were boisterous, Ronald Colman was every bit the gentleman even when he handled a sword to defend himself and his honor. And he has plenty of opportunity to use the sword in this handsome 1937 David O. Selznick production based on Anthony Hope's novel. John Cromwell (father of "Babe" star James Cromwell) directed this fast-paced romantic epic about a commoner who is forced to pretend he is his look-alike cousin, the king of a troubled European country. Madeleine Carroll, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (a delicious villain), Raymond Massey and Mary Astor also star.

"The Captain From Castile": Swashbucklers fit handsome, athletic Tyrone Power with the greatest of ease in such films as 1940's "The Mark of Zorro" and 1942's "The Black Swan." One of his best swashbucklers is this overlong but gorgeous Technicolor adventure from 1947. Henry King directed this actioner that finds Power a young man seeking to avenge his family, who had been mistreated by a Spanish inquisitor, and eventually traveling with Cortez to Mexico. Lee J. Cobb and Jean Peters (her seduction dance is priceless) co-star. Alfred Newman penned the lush score.

"The Pirate": One doesn't think of song-and-dance man Gene Kelly as a swashbuckling hero. But the muscular, athletic Kelly proved to be a great action star in two 1948 films--the Vincente Minnelli musical "The Pirate" and "The Three Musketeers." Although the latter is more a traditional swashbuckler, Kelly really gets to show his athletic prowess and his torso in "The Pirate." Judy Garland plays a lovelorn woman on a Caribbean island who believes that a traveling performer (Kelly) is really a vicious, romantic pirate. Kelly's sexy, energetic production number "Mack the Black" is one of the most memorable he put on screen. Cole Porter wrote the score.

Susan King

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