Tag Archives: Swashbucklers

Pirate Chic? Maureen O’Hara Shows Us How

Why do I like the 1952 pirate film Against All Flags? It’s very simple. It’s the scarf. That scarf had me at hello.

And the boots.

In fact, if I have to be a pirate, if I was forced into it, if someone pointed a gun at me and told me I had to be a pirate, I would want her wardrobe. I’d even take the hat with the purple feathers and the pistol. I’d probably take it if I wasn’t a pirate.

Anthony Quinn is mildly surprised

Another reason to like the film is that it stars Maureen O’Hara and Errol Flynn. She is a pirate named Spitfire and he is a British Officer pretending to be a deserter so that he can infiltrate the pirate island stronghold and scupper their cannons so the British navy can clean the pirates out.

This is a  latter-day swashbuckler for Flynn, though a somewhat more harassed Flynn than the derring-do Flynn of the 1930s. He still derring-does, but frequently wears an expression of….well, harassment. He’s trying to do this job, but has run into Spitfire and rather inconveniently fallen in love, which ignites distinct hostility and jealousy from Anthony Quinn’s pirate captain. Not to mention the slightly loopy Indian princess he rescues from a fate worse than death, who keeps flinging herself on his neck, which ignites the jealousy of Spitfire. It’s difficult to get a job done with people either trying to kiss you or kill you.

Spitfire, on the other hand, is the only woman of any influence on the island and inherited her pirate ships from her father. She was raised to be an excellent markswoman, the better to defend her honor. She will even fight her own duels if necessary. She’s also not bad at fencing, though we are, alas, deprived of the pleasure of seeing her fight against Flynn. He gets to fight Quinn while she takes on some nondescript pirates. Phooey!

Though having lived as a pirate her whole life, she doesn’t have any particular loyalty to them. She is a woman who has learned of necessity how to get along in an aggressively male world and by the time she meets Flynn has decided that she is tired of constantly warding off the unwanted attention of other pirates. It’s exhausting to be in a perpetual state of fending off rapacious men. She wants to try out a different life, one with maybe more room for wearing dresses and letting her hair down, so to speak.

She does actually wear some dresses in the film, but it’s her pirate costumes that catch one’s eye.

The pirate ships look more like sets and Flynn seems to have a double for his fight scenes, but the film is lighthearted and O’Hara in particular seems to be having fun striding about the scenes and fencing…and wearing those awesome boots. I’d make that movie for the sake of wearing those boots. And the scarf. And the hat with the purple feathers. And nearly everything else about her attire. If you have to be a pirate, you might as well be a stylish one.

This is my contribution to the “Swashathon,” hosted by Movies Silently. Make sure to read all the other piratical postings, here!


Posted by on July 14, 2017 in Movies


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Antonio Banderas in “The Mask of Zorro”

MV5BOTk5MTM0ODI0NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTYwNDc0MTI3._V1_SX640_SY720_When I was growing up, swashbucklers were the men to admire among my circle of family and friends. Especially Errol Flynn and Orlando Bloom. They were the beautiful, athletic, pretty-faced charmers of choice and because I was young and ornery, I remained impervious to their charms and teased mercilessly about it. I was not going to be taken in by a pretty face. I was steadfast. I was proud of it.

But I did have a secret crush. Actually, it wasn’t really that secret, but somehow I managed to underplay it in comparison with everyone else’s crushes.

(Actually, I have always thought Errol Flynn was a man of distinct charm and handsomeness, but it took a movie other than Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood to make me admit it – I didn’t like his longish hair in those two movies.)

I wasn’t even a fan of swashbucklers. I was more of a BBC/Masterpiece Theatre kind of gal (which might point to another not-so-secret crush on Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy). Long miniseries were my thing. Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens. Literary stuff. Talky stuff. Not muscular, roguish, sweaty action heroes.

But I saw The Mask of Zorro and I had to admit that I liked the movie. I seemed to be watching it quite often and I had to admit that Antonio Banderas was a large reason for that. He was awfully handsome, but he was more than that. He had a goofy charm as Alejandro Murrieta. He begins as an uncouth bandit, bumbling, bull-in-the-china-shop, until Anthony Hopkins takes him under his wing and gives him a make-over in a gender-reversed Pygmalion/Cinderella story twist and turns him into a gentlemen. Alejandro even gets to go to a ball of sorts and dance with Catherine Zeta-Jones. By the end, he can out-swashbuckle anyone.


It’s not a traditional Zorro story. It’s channeling serial tropes and traditions. Revenge, secret identities, make-overs, good-old-fashioned sword fights, romance, children who don’t know who there parents are. Actually, the more I think of it the more it seems clear to me how much this film owes to Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Cristo.

But I like Alejandro so much better than I ever liked the Count, who was often an implacable man in the novel, good at everything and very nearly a demi-god. He’s so perfect and so convinced of the righteousness of his mission that he’s irritating. Not Alejandro.

He’s not infallible, he has his awkward moments, he jumps the gun often, he’s not an aristocrat born to the graces of his position (like Anthony Hopkins’ Zorro). He has some ridiculously maladroit moments. He’s essentially a regular guy being beaten down by the authorities. Becoming Zorro gives him power to fight back. Like the Count of Monte Cristo, he is able to engage his enemy at their level and defeat them at their own game, but he’s doesn’t lose his humanity in the process.

He also looks pretty gorgeous while he does it.

This post was written as part of The Reel Infatuation Blogathon. Be sure to look up the rest of the posts for Days 1, 2, 3 and look out for more updates this week. Many, many thanks to Font & Frock and Silver Screenings for hosting!

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Posted by on June 16, 2016 in Movies


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The Mark of Zorro (1920)

downloadDouglas Fairbanks’ The Mark of Zorro is simply delightful. I enjoyed it even more the second time I saw it. Irrepressible, joyously bouncy, mischievous humor, swashbuckling and acrobatic heroics – it’s hard not to laugh and smile throughout the entire movie.

The Mark of Zorro was adapted from Johnston McCulley’s The Curse of Capistrano only one year after it’s publication. Evidently Mary Pickford, Fairbank’s wife at the time, suggested he turn it into a movie. I’m not exactly sure how faithful the movie is to the book, though I suspect not startlingly so (which isn’t a bad thing). But Fairbank’s film did provide the template for all future Zorro stories.

Don Diego Vega (Douglas Fairbanks) was educated in Spain and has been back in California for three months. His father is disgusted with him, saying his “blood has turned to water.” The only thing that seems to compel his interest are his magic tricks involving his handkerchief (“Have you seen this one?” he asks languidly). His father wants Diego to marry and figures the only woman who would be interested in his weak son would be an impoverished woman of noble blood.

But Diego is really Zorro, the mysterious masked bandit who rides about at night, punishing the soldiers who persecute the native people of California. His sworn mission is to free California of the oppression of Governor  Alvaredo (George Periolat) and his henchman, Captain Ramon (Robert McKim). He wants to rouse the caballeros into action by shaming them into doing their duty as men of noble blood (people are rather obsessed with noble blood in this film).

an awkward first meeting for Lolita and Diego

an awkward first meeting for Lolita and Diego

Meanwhile, his father’s plan to get Diego married proceeds apace. The Pulido family have been stripped of everything by the governor and need to repair their fortune, so Don Diego’s father and the parents of Lolita Pulido (Marguerite De La Motte) attempt to arrange a union. Initially, Lolita is excited…until she meets Diego. He sits limply in a chair and yawns, uttering inane comments about how he will send a servant to sing under her window (she replies by saying she has a servant who adores music) while she makes faces of the utmost disgust. When he shows her one of his ubiquitous magic tricks, her reaction is priceless. “He’s not a man. He’s a fish!” is Lolita’s verdict after he leaves.

But not ten minutes after Diego leaves, Zorro shows up to do his own wooing and Lolita is remarkably receptive to a masked bandit singing poetry to her in her garden. while her parents send someone to tell Captain Ramon about the presence of Zorro (not apparently fearing for the safety of their daughter) in the hopes of being restored to favor. Captain Ramon turns out to be lecherous, however, and after Zorro leaves, poor Lolita has to listen to yet a third profession of love in the same day.

The rest of the film builds to an extremely entertaining finale involving a rescue (several rescues), sword fights and an extended scene where Zorro leads Ramon’s men on a merry chase through the town: over walls, up walls, through windows. He leaps and swings and even stops to have a bite of breakfast while the poor soldiers are left hopelessly in his dust. It all looks like the best fun in the world and provides a perfect showcase for what makes Douglas Fairbanks so irresistible.

Zorro and Captain Ramon have a face-off

Zorro and Captain Ramon have a face-off

Fairbanks has a great deal of fun as Diego, too. He yawns, constantly fatigued and languid, and looks out from under hooded, sleepy eyes, only to grin ruefully (and with a twinkle of sly intelligence) whenever people react with disgust to him. The contrast between Diego and the energetic, joyous Zorro makes for one of the best contrasts in character I’ve seen in a Zorro film (or in any story featuring a character with a secret identity).

It’s also a fun role for Marguerite De La Motte. Douglas Fairbanks’ leading ladies do not generally have the most interesting roles, but Lolita is one of the better ones. She doesn’t get to do anything heroic, but she’s fun, highly expressive and lively (and her expressions of disgust are a panic).

I’ve discovered that with silent films (at least non-Chaplin, Keaton, Lloyd comedies), it can take me several viewings to fully appreciate them. Silent films grow on me, possibly because I notice more each time I watch. I am reading Tracey Goessel’s The First King of Hollywood: The Life of Douglas Fairbanks (an excellent and highly readable biography) and she discussed how one can miss little actions in silent films. Modern audiences are used to dialogue and music to direct are attention, whereas in silent films, little bits of business can occur quickly without our noticing. For example, when Diego first comes to call on the Pulido family, he does not intend to stay long. While he is greeting them all, different people keep trying to take his hat. The hat has a long tie attached to it and whenever they lay his hat down, he twitches it back…until he sees Lolita and then he lets them finally take the hat. It’s all done beneath the surface. It’s not flaunted; it’s simply happening while he’s talking. I didn’t notice the first time I saw the film, but it’s very amusingly done and nicely illustrates that he’s impressed with Lolita, even though he goes out of his way to demonstrate that he isn’t.

Mark 4Another thing I liked about the film is the finale, where the reveal of his identity is saved for the very end (even thought it should be entirely obvious to anyone who thinks about it for two seconds). But it’s dramatically satisfying as Diego finally loses his Diego lethargy and morphs into Zorro before everyone’s astonished eyes.

The version I watched was a Kino release and the piano score by Jon G. Mirsalis suits the action well. Since Douglas Fairbanks was never into doing romantic scenes, the romantic music for those scenes heightens the romance, as well as has a habit of getting stuck in my head.

According to Tracey Goessel, Fairbanks Zorro character influenced several creators of superheros. Bob Kane got the idea of the bat cave from Zorro’s hidden cave and Superman was partly modeled after Fairbanks, as well. In many ways, one could argue that Douglas Fairbanks was the first superhero.


Posted by on April 20, 2016 in Movies


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