Judge Clark Douglas has been asked to walk the plank entirely too many times.
Our review of The Black Swan, published July 31st, 2006, is also available.
Seas ablaze…with black villainy, with fiery romance, with breathless deeds of daring…in the roaring era of love, gold and adventure!
"Your eyes…I've looked into pistol barrels that are warmer."
Facts of the Case
After years of looting and pillaging, the notorious pirate Henry Morgan (Laird Cregar, Heaven Can Wait) has finally decided to settle down and begin a respectable life on the right side of the law. He's just been appointed Governor of Jamaica, and in return for his new position he's expected to help rid the seas of his former pirate associates who refuse to give up the old life. Morgan enlists the help of the enthusiastic Jamie Waring (Tyrone Power, The Razor's Edge) to help him in this task, but Jamie quickly finds himself more concerned with personal drama than with battling pirates. He's fallen head-over-heels for the lovely Lady Margaret Denby (Maureen O'Hara, Miracle on 34th Street), but she's currently engaged to another man and wants nothing to do with a ruffian like Jamie. Can the energetic "Jamie-Boy" win his woman and complete Captain Morgan's assignment?
I have to admit, I'm a sucker for movies like this. The Black Swan is about as realistic a portrait of pirate life as Glee is a realistic depiction of modern teenagers, but it's such ridiculous fun. The whole film has a sense of joy running through its veins, an old-fashioned spirit of derring-do that's enhanced greatly by Alfred Newman's surging, Korngold-inspired score and the robust Technicolor imagery. It doesn't quite manage to reach the heights of most Errol Flynn swashbucklers, but that's largely due to the fact that it stars the adequate-but-slightly-dull Tyrone Power instead of the impossibly charming Flynn. Power just doesn't quite have the effortless enthusiasm needed to play a phony movie pirate, but he fares well enough during his flirty scenes with Maureen O'Hara and never gets in the way of the film's energetic spirit.
All of the film's characters are drawn in rather broad strokes, but in a manner that feels affectionate rather than tiresome. The villainous pirate played by George Sanders (All About Eve) might as well be twirling his mustache, while professional goofball Thomas Mitchell (It's a Wonderful Life) ably serves as gruff comic relief. Laird Cregar is probably the film's least well-remembered actor, but he manages to deliver a Captain Morgan who is amusingly pompous and self-satisfied without ever actually making him unlikable.
Still, the film largely lives and dies on the strength of its two leads. While Power is a bit dull in contrast to the film's other male stars, he seems to spring to life whenever he's sharing the screen with O'Hara. The two benefit from tremendous chemistry; ably trading barbs over the course of the entire film (though the film tips the scales in Power's favor by making Jamie a rakish charmer and Lady Margaret a resistant grouch). There are a few moments that won't play too well for easily-offended, politically-correct viewers of the modern era (some old-school sexism creeps in on several occasions, and the film's one African-American character feels both anachronistic AND kinda racist), but that's more or less par for the course for a film of this age.
Amusingly, the film is supposedly based on a novel of the same name, but has almost nothing to do with the plot of that novel aside from the fact that Henry Morgan is one of the characters. Even back in 1942, tacking a name brand on a film simply for the sake of marketing was considered a smart move. It was directed by hired gun Henry King, whose no-nonsense professionalism proves more of an asset than a liability this time around. The Black Swan is a bit too formulaic to reach classic status (it isn't even the best film with the words Black Swan in the title), but it's plenty of fun.
The Black Swan (Blu-ray) offers a complicated 1080p/full frame transfer that highlights the film's expressive color cinematography, but is somewhat less than it could be due to the fact that some of the film's original Technicolor elements have been lost. Without having seen exactly what the flick looked like originally, it's hard to say how much of a difference this makes, but it's worth noting. Elsewhere, detail is reasonably strong, depth is acceptable and there's a satisfying level of natural grain left intact. The DTS HD 1.0 Master Audio score is okay, though the Newman score sounds a bit pinched. The dialogue is clean and clear throughout. Supplements include an audio commentary with historian Rudy Behlmer and actress Maureen O'Hara and a trailer.
The Black Swan may not be quite as thrilling today as it was in 1942, but it's still a fun ride with energy to spare. Recommended.
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