THE BLACK SWAN (1942) C 87m dir: Henry King
w/Tyrone Power, Maureen O'Hara, Laird Cregar, Thomas Mitchell, George Sanders, Anthony Quinn, George Zucco, Edward Ashley, Fortunio Bonanova, Stuart Robertson
Exciting adventure tale, adapted from the Sabatini novel, features Power as a dashing pirate.
From The Movie Guide: "Along with THE MARK OF ZORRO, the peak of Tyrone Power's career as a swashbuckler. ...
"The story and dialogue smack of the Errol Flynn adventure CAPTAIN BLOOD, but the film employs its cliches with such overwhelming vigor and good humor that they seem like old friends. Even though his physique is not quite up to the more beefcake aspects of the hardsell of the producers, Power is full of marvelous dash and derring-do. Cregar, all hearty bravado, is equally wonderful, his enormous body bedecked in wigs and finery, and the practically unrecognizable Sanders, sporting a thick red wig and beard, is quite effective as a less civilized type of villain than those he usually played. The ravishing, flame-haired, underrated O'Hara, too, is in her element as the feisty heroine and the result of all this happy casting is lavish Hollywoodiana at its sporting best."
From the website www.mercurie.blogspot.com, this 2015 post about the film by Terence Towles Canote:
"If you ask many what in their opinion is the greatest pirate movie of all time, they might well say 'Captain Blood.' Others might say 'The Crimson Pirate.' Those wholly unfamiliar with classic movies might even say 'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.' That having been said, many true connoisseurs of the genre will likely say 'The Black Swan.' The Black Swan (1942) stars what would be two true superstars of the genre, Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara. It also features George Sanders in one of his best turns as a villain. As to swashbuckling, it features more than enough derring-do to fill another two movies.
"The Black Swan was ostensibly based on the novel by Rafael Sabatini, who also wrote the novels The Sea Hawk, Scaramouche, and Captain Blood. Indeed, the movie is called Rafael Sabatini's The Black Swan in the opening credits and in the writing credits the movie is said to be 'from the Novel by Rafael Sabatini.' In truth The Black Swan owes very little to the novel from which it took its name. The only character the two have in common is Henry Morgan, the historical Welsh privateer who became Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica. Rather than being actually based on the novel of the same name, The Black Swan features an original story that, nonetheless, seems like something that Rafael Sabatini might have written.
"If The Black Swan is regarded as one of the classics of the pirate movie genre, it is because it emerged from a rather remarkable creative team. Henry King had been a director since 1915 and had already directed such classics as Tol'able David (1921), Stella Dallas (1925), In Old Chicago (1937), and Jesse James (1939). The screenplay was written by none other than Ben Hecht and Seton I. Miller. Ben Hecht had already co-written the classic play The Front Page with Charles MacArthur, and had worked on such films as Scarface (1932), Nothing Sacred (1937), and Gunga Din (1939). Seton I. Miller already had experience in the swashbuckling genre when he co-wrote the screenplay for The Black Swan, having worked on the screenplays of some true classics of the genre: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and The Sea Hawk (1940).
"Cast in the role of the hero, Captain Jamie Waring was Tyrone Power. Not only was Tyrone Power already a major movie star, but he had already starred in one classic swashbuckler, the 1940 version of The Mark of Zorro. Arguably Tyrone Power was perfectly cast in the role. It was not simply a case that he was devilishly handsome. Unlike fellow swashbuckling star Errol Flynn, Tyrone Power actually was skilled with a sword. Basil Rathbone, who had appeared opposite Tyrone Power in The Mark of Zorro and was a master swordsman himself once said, 'Power was the most agile man with a sword I’ve ever faced before a camera.'
"The Black Swan would mark the first swashbuckler film in which Maureen O'Hara was ever cast. As her career progressed she would star in enough swashbucklers that today she is one of the actresses most identified with the genre. Even in The Black Swan Miss O'Hara's character, Lady Margaret Denby, is dramatically different from heroines in previous swashbuckler movies. Unlike the sort of passive heroines often played by Olivia de Havilland in movies of the genre, Lady Margaret has a mind and will of her own. She can take whatever the men dished out to her and dish it right back at them. She can easily be described as a 'fiery redhead' or an 'Irish spitfire.'
"The rest of the cast is well suited to their roles as well. Thomas Mitchell, now best known as Gerald O'Hara in Gone With the Wind and Uncle Billy in It's a Wonderful Life, plays Jamie's lieutenant Tom Blue. George Sanders is perfect as the villain of the piece, Captain Billy Leach, as is Anthony Quinn as his first mate, Wogan. Laird Cregar not only looks like historical figure Sir Henry Morgan, but behaves as many of us imagine he would have in real life.
"While The Black Swan boasts an excellent screenplay and a truly fine cast, it also boasts as much action as any swashbuckler fan could ever want. The action goes well beyond swordfights, of which there are plenty in the film. The Black Swan is remarkable for its scenes of ship to ship battle --- indeed, it even opens with one before the credits. What is more, the ships in the film are intricately designed and look very realistic.
"Of course, the shooting of any swashbuckler film was apt to be rough and tumble, and The Black Swan was no different. That having been said, some of the mishaps on the set came from what at the time was probably an unexpected source. Columnist Sara Hamilton visited the set one day, having been told how nice a person Maureen O'Hara was. She noticed Tyrone Power with a swollen lip, who told her, 'Maureen hit me.' A few minutes later she ran into George Sanders, who told her, 'Maureen hit me with a bottle.' Unlike many actresses, apparently when Maureen O'Hara was called upon to hit one of her co-stars, she actually hit them. Maureen O'Hara admitted, 'I had to smack him (referring to Tyrone Power) in the face seven times, and I know how to smack.'
"With the United States entering World War II, an effort was made to shoot scenes in as few takes as possible. Amazingly enough, around thirty scenes in The Black Swan were shot in only one take. 20th Century Fox felt that the chemicals used to develop film would be better used by the military.
"The Black Swan proved to be a hit at the box office. It was the sixth highest grossing film in 1942, one of the banner years in film history. It also won the Oscar for Best Cinematography for cinematographer Leon Shamroy, and was nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects (Fred Sersen, Roger Heman Sr., George Leverett) and Best Original Score [Alfred Newman].
"Seen today it is easy to see why The Black Swan was so well received upon its initial release. The film has plenty of action, including sword fights and ship to ship battles. What it is more, it benefits from very clever dialogue, most likely courtesy of screenwriter Ben Hecht. The cast does remarkably well with the material, with Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara in particular playing well against each other. In many respects The Black Swan is a nearly perfect movie, with an even blend of excitement, romance, and humour. There are few pirate movies that could ever match it for its sheer amount of swashbuckling fun."