Guest post: Neil Brand on The Black Pirate

A personal project for Douglas Fairbanks, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars of the 1920’s, The Black Pirate (1926) was shot in two-strip Technicolor and impressed audiences of the day with its scale and style.

Following Neil Brand’s appearance at the Hippodrome Festival of Silent Cinema, where he accompanied clips of The Black Pirate as part of his successful Silent Pianist Speaks show, we invited him to share his thoughts on the film as it comes to Region 2 DVD today from Park Circus.

Douglas Fairbanks as The Black Pirate

Douglas Fairbanks as The Black Pirate

The Black Pirate should be a gift to anybody who feels like scoring it, as it now feels like it’s coming at the end of a ninety-year cycle of films, not the beginning!

Imagine the score for Pirates of the Caribbean, and there is the score for Fairbanks. Add in Korngold scoring The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood and all the material is there to help Fairbanks up that rudder and down that sail because, make no mistake, Fairbanks was there first.

The Pirate genre springs to life fully-formed in The Black Pirate: the action, moral dilemmas, brutality and comradeship are celebrated from the opening minutes (when a pirate gets back a valuable ring the owner has swallowed by getting his henchman to disembowel it back out) to the final fadeout, when Doug gets his girl and disappears up a rope with her.

The fights are superb, the colour mouthwatering, the running time short and sharp and the acting great all round with the ‘silence’ of the film allowing us to hear only such ‘yo-ho-hoing’ as we can reasonably cope with.

Princess Isobel (Billie Dove) and The Black Pirate (Douglas Fairbanks)

Princess Isobel (Billie Dove) and The Black Pirate (Douglas Fairbanks)

The legend goes that Fairbanks happened to see a child’s book on pirates belonging to Jackie Coogan whilst on the set of The Kid and got the idea to make a pirate picture. It makes sense – Fairbanks needed star vehicles that allowed for his athleticism as well as his charm and he also had a penchant for big sets and stunts, both of which worked well with sailing ships.

He solved the problem of the ‘good/bad man’ hero by making his character join the pirates to exact revenge for his father’s death, and he added a further plank of the genre by being a disguised nobleman with a lust for justice – so Robin Hood leapt to life on the 17th century high seas and Doug made a packet. It’s not just a good film, or even a good silent film, but a great film to stand alongside the greatest action pictures of the sound or silent eras.

Thanks to Neil Brand. Find out more about Neil’s upcoming appearances on his website.

The Black Pirate is available to buy now on Amazon.co.uk.

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