One of the few surviving silent movies shot entirely in Technicolor, THE BLACK PIRATE was Douglas Fairbanks's only color film as well as his sole pirate movie. If Fairbanks had expended as much effort on the characterizations as he did getting the color right, the picture might have been
a true adventure classic.
The only survivors of a pirate attack at sea, Michel (Douglas Fairbanks) and his father find themselves marooned on a desert island. As his dad dies in his arms, Michel swears vengeance. When a group of the pirates arrive on the island to bury treasure, Michel challenges their leader (Anders
Randolf) to a duel and kills him. Determined to infiltrate the pirate band, Michel wins their respect when he single-handedly captures a merchant vessel. On the vessel is a beautiful princess (Billie Dove) with whom Michel falls in love. He suggests to the pirates that the captured ship and its
passengers be held for ransom. Meanwhile, a group of the buccaneers draws lots for the princess's favors, and a lecherous pirate lieutenant (Sam de Grasse) wins.
A ship is dispatched on a ransom mission. Before it embarks, Michel manages to hide a ring in his mouth and a note to the captive (Charles Belcher) who has been chosen to act as emissary. The note reads: "Show this ring to the Governor. Have him send against us a detachment of my best soldiers.
The princess will be set ashore this night." The message is never delivered--the ship is blown up by a saboteur (Charles Stevens) acting on the orders of the pirate lieutenant, who wants the princess for himself. He also foils Michel's attempt to free the princess. That night, Michel, now know as
"The Black Pirate," is forced to walk the plank, but the princess and McTavish (Donald Crisp), a sympathetic pirate, have surreptitiously loosed his bonds, and he survives.
Michel swims to shore and returns with a galley full of warriors. He and his men attack the pirates and vanquish them. After slaying the wicked lieutenant, Michel is formally introduced to the princess as a duke. He proposes marriage and she lovingly accepts.
Fairbanks had wanted to make a pirate movie for several years and he wanted to do it in color. "Pirates demand color," he said. "It was impossible to imagine them without color." In 1923, he hired Raoul Walsh to direct such a vehicle but the project never got off the ground. Instead, Walsh
directed Fairbanks in THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1924), the superstar's finest film. But Fairbanks persisted and eventually made THE BLACK PIRATE in two-strip Technicolor, a primitive form of Technicolor that resembled a prettier version of video colorization.
The vagaries and limitations of early Technicolor were considerable: if you photographed blue you got green; if you photographed yellow you wound up with orange. Furthermore, the same colors came out differently when lit differently or applied to different textures. For these reasons, the crew of
THE BLACK PIRATE spent six months making expensive color tests before shooting started. When shooting did commence, virtually everything on the set had to be artificially colored or muted. Thousands of gallons of water were dyed. Even the dark stubble on Fairbanks's face had to be touched up with
a reddish powder to keep it from photographing green.
on this dark soil--romance." The film delivers on its promise. Among its many diverting spectacles: The Black Pirate triumphantly posed atop the ship he has just single-handedly captured, drifting backwards against the backdrop of a second ship on which legions of happy pirates are cheering; men
swimming underwater like sleek, bleached frogs; the title character, fixed at center frame by a craning camera, being hoisted up and out of the ship's hold by his minions.
In the most famous stunt of his career, Fairbanks apparently descends from the ship's mainmast to deck by piercing the sails with his knife and riding it as it cuts downward. Alas, the feat reputedly was performed not by Fairbanks but by a double. (THE BLACK PIRATE may be harboring an additional
double. Douglas Fairbanks Jr. claimed that his stepmother, Mary Pickford, stood in for Billie Dove for the film's climactic kiss.) (Violence.)
Cast & Details See all »
- Rating: NR
- Review: One of the few surviving silent movies shot entirely in Technicolor, THE BLACK PIRATE was Douglas Fairbanks's only color film as well as his sole pirate movie. If Fairbanks had expended as much effort on the characterizations as he did getting the color ri… (more)