My Favourite Swashbucklers Part IV

Parts I, II, and III of this series can be found by clicking on the numerals. Again the spoiler warning; there may be spoilers below!

10. The Prince and the Pauper, 1937. Starring Errol Flynn, Claude Rains.

Based on the eponymous novel by Mark Twain. This one takes a while to get going, but there’s more of a story here, no doubt due to the novel it is adapted from (which I haven’t read), than swordplay. Flynn doesn’t even make his appearance until about halfway through. He’s at his best here though, and you can really see the qualities that made him a star shine through.

The story is a case of mistaken identity between the heir of King Henry VIII of England, Edward, and a pauper boy who takes his place after the king dies. Treachery and skull-duggery follow while the true heir, now living the pauper’s life, falls into the care of Flynn’s Miles Hendon, who gradually comes to realise the boy isn’t in fact just a bit touched in the head and may actually be who he claims to be.

It takes a while to get to the good sword fight in this one, partly because Flynn’s character is more of a supporting role. When it arrives though, it’s good, as Flynn takes on multiple opponents in a nighttime fight in a forest (at least i think it’s nighttime, you never can tell with black and whites!). There are even a few slick taunts from Flynn mid-duel, which make the scene for me.

11. The Three Musketeers, 1948. Starring Lana Turner, Gene Kelly.

The Dogtanion and the Three Muskehounds cartoon when I was a kid has always maintained this story as one of my favourites. This version of it is pretty good too, worthy of a higher place on the list. Great costumes, great sets and great fun!

I probably don’t need to outline what happens in this one, it’s pretty well known, and has been done many times although there does tend to be some variation in the story that makes it to the screen on each occasion!

There’s a good sword fight early on just to get things off on the right foot, with plenty of repartee mixed in for good measure; always an important part of Hollywood sword fighting.  Happily this swashbuckling pace is well maintained through the movie, with a comically athletic d’Artagnon providing some laughs along the way.

Well worth watching, and it should definitely be higher on the list, but the list is less of a ranking at this point and more of a collection! If you’re planning on a swashbuckling movie session, this might be a good one to start with!

12. The Spanish Main, 1945. Starring Paul Heinreid, Maureen O’Hara.

Maureen O’Hara makes her second appearance on the list. Paul Heinreid was also in Casablanca.

A Dutch sea captain, Heinreid, is captured by the Spanish and after his release becomes a pirate to exact revenge. He captures O’Hara, the intended bride of the Spanish governor who captured him. Romance ensues in the face of opposition from his own pirate comrades.

Quite a nice swashbuckler with eye catching sets and a good story. The best sword fight comes about ten minutes from the end, but I think this movie would have been a better vehicle for Flynn or Power (or even an opportunity for Basil Rathbone to play the good guy in a swashbuckler), although Heinreid did grow on me as the movie progressed.

13. The Three Musketeers/The Four Musketeers, 1973/1974. Starring Michael York, Oliver Reed, Frank Finlay, Richard Chamberlain.

Originally intended to be a single film, but ultimately released in two parts. Being from 1973/1974, it’s not from the Golden Age of Hollywood period and I wasn’t sure whether to include it at all. However, it’s a great version of a quintessential swashbuckler, so I’ve decided to put it in as an honourable mention and leave it at that.

That sums up my list of favourite Golden Age of Hollywood swashbucklers. There is one notable absence from the roster of actors that I have alluded to in a previous part, and that is Douglas Fairbanks (senior). He actually made versions of some of the films mentioned, such as Robin Hood, The Mark of Zorro and The Three Musketeers, but these were all silent films which I don’t tend to watch. I couldn’t make a list like this without mentioning him though!

Finally, I should point out the name format for these posts, ‘My Favourite Swashbucklers’, is something of an homage to the film ‘My Favourite Year’, not a swashbuckler per say, but the main character, played by Peter O’Toole, is loosely based on Errol Flynn.

My Favourite Swashbucklers Part III

Parts I and II of this can be found by clicking on the numerals. Once again, there is the potential for spoilers to be present below, so proceed with that in mind!

6. The Black Swan, 1942. Starring Tyrone Power, Maureen O’Hara.

Tyrone Power makes his second appearance on the list in the movie adaptation of Rafael Sabatini’s novel.

This is a pirate adventure movie set around the time of Sir Henry Morgan’s governorship of Jamaica. Power plays one of his pirate captains and supporters in the face of rivalry with other factions and the Spanish.

The climax of this film is the sword fight between Power and the pirate Captain Leech. Power’s class as a swordsman really makes this one shine as they battle above and below decks on Leech’s ship.

7. The Master of Ballantrae, 1953. Starring Errol Flynn, Roger Livesey.

Errol Flynn makes yet another appearance as the hero, ably backed up by Roger Livesey, perhaps better known for his leading role in The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. This flick is set against the backdrop the Jacobite Rising in Scotland and the Battle of Culloden. It’s based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel of the same name.

Flynn’s character is a Jacobite rebel forced to flee Scotland after the rebellion is crushed, leaving behind his lands, titles and paramour. Various adventures follow before he is able to return home and put everything to right.

For me the highlight of this one is the sword fight between Flynn’s character Jamie Durie and the pirate, Captain Arnaud, which occurs a little after mid-way through the film. Another great example of Hollywood swashbuckling and Captain Arnaud is an excellent villain, stylish and colourful in his pirate finery.

8. The Moonraker, 1958. Starring George Baker, Sylvia Sims.

George Baker takes the lead role in this film set after the English Civil War. An interesting bit of trivia (to me anyway!) is that Baker provided the voice over for George Lazenby’s James Bond in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service in the scenes where Bond was disguised as Sir Hilary Bray, as well as playing that character during his appearance in the film.

Baker plays a Scarlet Pimpernel type character who rescues Royalists from Roundhead persecution and facilitates their escape from England to France. Perhaps the film should have been titled The Pimpernel Scarlet. Bad joke. It’ll be the only one. I promise!

This one kind of bucks the Hollywood trend in that there are entertaining sword fights the whole way through; they don’t save it all up for a flashy finale. As an English film, it has a very different feel to it than the Hollywood swashbucklers, but it is well worth a look if you get the chance.

9. The Sea Hawk, 1940. Starring Errol Flynn, Brenda Marshall.

Errol Flynn once again, swashbuckling with aplomb. Although this one takes its name from another Raphael Sabatini novel, it sadly doesn’t take its storyline from it. In saying that, the story that is used is still an entertaining enough romp.

The plot revolves around the Sea Hawks, a group of English privateer captains making war on the Spanish Empire on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I.

Once again the climax at the end is a sword fight between Flynn’s Captain Thorpe and an opponent who shall remain nameless as it would be a bit of a giveaway! All the required elements of a good clash of blades are here, including the old ‘camera focus on the fencers’ shadows’, but my favourite part is where Flynn slices through the candle sticks, quite why I couldn’t say for sure, but it looks pretty cool!

My footnote to this film is that I’d love to have seen Flynn make a movie that was true to the Sabatini novel, it’s a really good one.

Part IV can be found here.