Director: Henry King
By Roderick Heath
If The Sea Hawk is the working mannequin of the old style swashbuckler, The Black Swan is its disreputable youthful brother, a research in lascivious über pulp in relaxation and movement. Starring Tyrone Energy, Errol Flynn’s chief rival for the mantle of swashbuckling heartthrob through the late 1930s-1940s, in considered one of his almost a dozen collaborations with director Henry King, The Black Swan is one other important style avatar.
King, a cinema pioneer and normally a soberly suave, considerate director, right here threw out the niceties and reduces the intense themes of the Curtiz-Flynn mannequin to window dressing. He fees via the narrative like a whirling dervish to wrap up his narrative in 84 minutes of Technicolor-swathed foreplay.
The theme normally handled cheekily, even suggestively, however in the end decorously in Flynn’s motion pictures, the dance of harmful seduction between roguish outlaw and a prim woman truthful like Olivia de Havilland, is right here transmuted into an prolonged S&M fantasy. Aside from Duel within the Solar (1948), The Black Swan is, in its circuitous manner, fairly the filthiest, mind-bogglingly kinky and campy movie I’ve seen from a significant Hollywood studio within the 1940s.
While The Sea Hawk took the oncoming temper of struggle severely sufficient to sail on these ailing winds, The Black Swan is fully a rejection of up to date reflection, besides maybe in its aggressive underlying celebration of warrior masculinity as a newly fascinating splendid.
Among the movies that helped to invent what would later be known as the camp aesthetic (and The Black Swan absolutely is one, together with the likes of Robert Siodmak’s Cobra Lady  and essentially the most florid Bette Davis and Joan Crawford melodramas) welled out of the underground reservoirs of this seemingly extra severe period’s frenetic anxieties and perfervid fantasies, which might additionally disgorge movie noir.
Shot in Technicolor that swimming pools with the luscious vivacity of Renaissance artwork, all the higher for absorbing the feel of main woman Maureen O’Hara’s vulva-red lips and the hues of Earl Luick’s costuming, The Black Swan prefigures the painterly aesthetic of King and Energy’s wonderful later collaboration, Captain from Castile (1947). However whereas the latter movie was coolly resplendent in its use of storybook color and supplied its melodramatic story as a sober epic, The Black Swan is little greater than a romp via the tropes of the pirate film.
Working from a script by Ben Hecht and Seton I. Miller tailored from Rafael Sabatini’s novel, King whirls via what ought to be a primary act of a typical swashbuckler movie in a stable 20 minutes of delirious fights and captures, rape and bondage, torture and pistol brandishing, door-entering and stair-climbing, that begins to play like French bed room farce finished in buccaneer costume.
That is, as a gap title tells us in a fashion suggesting cowriter Hecht lampooning his archly romantic foreword scrawl for Gone with the Wind (1939), a “story of the Spanish Major — when Villainy wore a Sash, and the one political creed on the earth was — Love, Gold, Journey.” The very first shot, of a younger Hispanic gallant serenading his woman love far under her excessive balcony, hits a romantic be aware the movie solely desires to subvert. Inside moments, the Spanish Caribbean port is infiltrated by a band of English privateers who leap from the rooftops to overwhelm the guards and plunder the city of all the pieces that may be carried away; the pirates are glimpsed hefting tethered ladies onto their ship like sacks of grain.
Pirate captains Jamie Waring (Energy) and Billy Leech (George Sanders) rejoice by getting sozzled on the seaside with two trussed maidens wriggling like puppies at their ft.
Leech makes a play for figurative fellatio as he tries to pressure one captive to drink from his mug, however as she resists, he as an alternative splashes his symbolic seed throughout her face. Spanish troopers resurge from the night time, driving out the pirates and capturing Waring, who’s then stripped to the waist and held on the governor’s rack for a bit gratuitous torso-ripping and rippling.
Now it’s Waring getting the wine goblet/penis substitute waved in his face. Fortunately, in bursts Waring’s chum Tommie Blue (Thomas Mitchell) with a aid get together, and shortly it’s the Spanish governor on the rack. Jamaica’s British governor, Lord Denby (George Zucco), comes downstairs to intervene, protesting that England and Spain have now made peace, however Waring, much more infuriated, has him promptly hurled into the dungeon as a traitor. His daughter, Margaret (O’Hara) descends too, wielding a pistol and demanding to know her father’s location: Waring swats the gun from her hand and tries to kiss her as prelude to ravishing her, however the arrival of Waring’s good friend, Henry Morgan (Laird Cregar), distracts him a lot he drops Margaret like a lot laundry beneath his arm.
Morgan’s arrival doesn’t imply, nonetheless, that the pirating enterprise will proceed as typical. Morgan, whom all of his pirating mates thought had been hung in London after being captured and shipped there by Denby, has returned as the brand new Jamaican governor, as a result of he’s the one one who can persuade the pirates to hold up their cutlasses now that England has made peace with Spain—or, if he can’t, can use his data to hunt them down.
Unsurprisingly, Morgan is initially spurned by Denby. Leech and fellow cutthroat Wogan (Anthony Quinn) in flip spurn the concept of giving up piracy, while Waring reluctantly sides with Morgan and Tommie.
As he and Tommie escort Morgan into the governor’s mansion, they battle like youngsters over the most effective rooms, and Waring eagerly claims Margaret’s former chamber, all the higher to lounge upon her pillows to imbibe the scent she’s left on them. Tommie tries to impress a woman good friend he’s picked up by making like to her in Margaret’s mattress, just for Waring to catch them and kick them out.
Waring tries to reinvent himself as a gentleman, or a minimum of as shut as he can get to 1, so as to pursue Margaret in his new station. She, understandably, is lower than thrilled initially, taking part in the cobra to his mongoose in a prolonged recreation the place Waring tries to suppress his pure inclination to bend Margaret over the closest barrel and have at it and play the gentleman suitor. When Margaret falls from her horse whereas fleeing from him, he tends to her in his approximation of gallant style, together with peeling her eyes extensive to test she hasn’t suffered a stroke and fetching her a drink of water utilizing a lily pad as a cup, just for her to then clout him on the noggin with a stone.
Waring has a love rival within the type of Denby’s foppish good friend Roger Ingram (Edward Ashley), a strutting ponce who appears by far the extra splendid gentleman—besides that Ingram is plotting to make himself extraordinarily wealthy, destroy Morgan, and assist Denby take again management of Jamaica by feeding info to Leech on the place and when to assault ships, and how one can keep away from Waring and the opposite loyal captains beneath Morgan.
Piracy is to King as jewel thievery is to Lubitsch and Hitchcock: an prolonged mating dance. Whereas for the latter administrators, that finer illicit occupation symbolised grownup sexuality at its most refined, piracy beneath King’s watch turns into a basic metaphor for baser, extra primal processes, because the drama, while set nominally in a particular historic milieu, portrays a second in human evolution that’s much more distant, when animal wants and uncooked pressure give option to the relation of people.
King isn’t the slightest bit taken with both the finagling of the villains or in delivering a comeuppance to Ingram—that’s left to be resolved after the ultimate fade-out—however fairly focuses purely on the randy power of his stars, complemented with some neat motion.
Energy, who was King’s discovery, was catapulted to stardom after showing in King’s Lloyd’s of London (1936) as an suave, however largely static romantic lead. When he performed the title function in King’s 1939 drama Jesse James, after which the masked avenger in Rouben Mamoulian’s extra classical The Mark of Zorro (1940), with an epic bout of swordplay between Energy and Basil Rathbone that ranks as one of the genuinely fierce ever filmed, Energy turned a authentic rival to Errol Flynn as a swashbuckling idol.
The air of bodily discomfort that may beset Energy more and more within the later 1940s and 1950s owing to the inherited coronary heart ailment that may lastly kill him, was nonetheless nowhere to be seen, and he bounds via The Black Swan with the swaggering confidence of a film star at full pressure: really this was the following to final film Energy would make earlier than he joined the Marines and served as pilot via the tip of World Conflict II. He was bisexual in line with Hollywood scuttlebutt (however then, who wasn’t?), and definitely was no stranger to letting himself be eroticised on display screen. He spends a few third of the working time of The Black Swan sans shirt, beginning with an interlude of homoerotic torture.
O’Hara, however, appears to have possessed some innate high quality that introduced out the latent S&M fantasist in so most of the administrators who labored together with her: sure, gagged, and hooded in Hitchcock’s Jamaica Inn (1939), kidnapped repeatedly and subjected to medieval torture in William Dieterle’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), dragged throughout nation on her rear finish at John Ford’s behest in The Quiet Man (1952), and thrown in for a bout of mud wrestling and spanking in Andrew V. McLaglen’s McLintock (1963).
What was it about O’Hara that uncovered the nakedly keen chauvinist in such filmmakers? Was it her capability to appear without delay rigidly correct and cast-iron in character, but additionally provocatively, lawlessly sensual beneath the floor? Definitely The Black Swan is based on simply this steadiness, because the extra ferociously contemptuous and dismissive O’Hara will get the an increasing number of sure Waring is that Margaret secretly adores him. After he’s clobbered Ingram, who ill-advisedly tried to begin a duel, he calls for to know what on earth she sees in such a flop of a person.
Margaret spits a stream of insults at him: “You black-hearted bully! What are you aware about males or ladies or something human? All you are able to do is shoot and kill and prey on ladies, along with your beastly senses slobbering on the sight of something wonderful!” Waring swishes his cape and struts off with a assured flourish: “I repeat my lass, you’ll have to decide on between us, and really quickly too.”
The concept of creating an action-adventure film as an excuse to place two roaring scorching stars collectively was as soon as one of many important creeds of Hollywood; Howard Hawks was the previous grasp of it. I recall a couple of years in the past when watching Pirates of the Caribbean: Lifeless Man’s Chest (2006), one of many direct descendants of this movie and its brethren, how a lot I used to be struck by the blinding arc of electrochemistry between Johnny Depp and Keira Knightley in a single singular scene collectively.
That chemistry was in any other case fully ignored within the collection, leaving us as an alternative with Knightley’s romance with Orlando Bloom’s blockish ingénue and Depp to romance his personal CGI simulacrums. It felt like an offence to cinema and nature, one neither Hawks nor King would have dedicated. The traditional notion that the on-screen motion is just an important backdrop to the contemplation of human mating rituals isn’t essentially a degradation of the journey film ethic; quite the opposite, it has lengthy been one of many style’s distinctive traits. The important motif of misconstrued character between potential lovers is once more historical, although the peculiar tweak it’s given right here is that Margaret actually isn’t mistaken to distrust Waring’s “reformed” character, given what we see of the way in which he acts, a pure caricature of troglodytic masculinity who obeys a basic perception within the reality of instant organic response fairly than any social nicety.
Freudian and legendary symbolism is invoked as Waring vegetation a sword between his and Margaret’s beds as each a fittingly phallic and lethal totem of the area that should stay between them till the romance is lastly mutual. While it may hardly appear a higher distance from King’s subsequent movie, The Song of Bernadette (1943), The Black Swan treats playfully a theme that constantly preoccupied King in his extra evidently private works: characters trying to transcend their character flaws and evolve in direction of a yearned-for state of grace and enlightenment, normally inside the context of an amazing social second that not solely gives the prospect for such transcendence, but additionally forces it.
Chief villains Sanders, who, outfitted along with his nice bushy pink beard and broad accent, appears to be relishing taking part in a much less gentlemanly type of rotter for as soon as, and Quinn, sporting an eye fixed patch, really feel like avatars for the perverse, consuming pan-sexuality of the “pirate” breed, imps from the innermost realm of Waring’s psyche who have to be defeated if he’s to really evolve as he says he needs.
When Waring and Margaret are compelled to fake to be married for the sake of fooling Leech, he comes snuffling into their room wanting as if he very very similar to to climb into mattress with each of them, brandishing a nightgown for Margaret that he appears to love the concept of carrying himself. In the meantime, Quinn’s Wogan lounges shirtless within the window bay of his cabin.
Whether or not Waring actually can evolve is the chief stake of the plot. He offers in, apparently, to his most anarchic impulses when, confronted with a schism between passion and obligation, he haphazardly combines each by intervening to maintain Margaret from marrying Ingram by kidnapping her, cueing one other of O’Hara’s bondage scenes, as Waring ties her up and wraps a giant thick gag about her yap. However as soon as he has her on his ship, Waring tries to take care of a gentlemanly forbearance, whilst circumstance dictates he fake to be signing again on with Leech and Wogan.
The requirements of political loyalty are additionally seen as basically erotic, identical to the dance of pressure and seduction, softness and hardness between Margaret and Waring; Morgan’s ennobling by the King and his new suppliance to authority calls for he try to quash his former colleagues and the roguish actions he himself nonetheless needs he may indulge, simply as Waring should hand over his ravaging.
Cregar’s gleeful efficiency as Morgan is one other spotlight of The Black Swan, strolling a precise line between excessive comedy and imperial pressure, showing initially in a imaginative and prescient akin to the climactic second of The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) when King Richard reveals himself as the Aristocracy and order incarnate, as he seems unexpectedly, resplendent within the full Restoration drag.
And but Cregar’s Morgan consistently scratches beneath his mighty black wig of state and at last tugs it off in a match of pique. He’s nearly glad when the conspiracy of the snotocracy in Jamaica forces him to flee and discover his solely doable salvation in a single final little bit of seafaring motion, to attempt to ensnare Leech and Waring, whom he believes actually has turned rascal once more.
As a movie, The Black Swan is a piece of pure illustrative élan in essentially the most classical Hollywood style. In avoiding commonplace swashbuckling till the finale, King pares again exposition to nearly comedian ebook proportions, just like the course of an assault on a treasure ship depicted in swift montage, resolving with a victimised ship’s nameplate, nonetheless affixed to a damaged piece of hull, drifting within the water.
The early scene through which Leech and Wogan break up from Morgan, with a pie-eyed Waring unable to really determine whom he desires to observe, is a Hogarthian litany of seedy humanity and ye olde fakery. The final word sympathy of The Black Swan leans distinctly in direction of the pirates’ aspect, or a minimum of the gentlemanly ones: Morgan considers chucking in his fee for a return to sea, having gotten a style of the extra refined buccaneering of politics and excessive society, while Waring’s swashbuckling prowess is lastly confirmed to have heroic makes use of.
While neglecting the standard motion till its final reel, The Black Swan lastly lets rip in one of the visually ingenious and dazzling motion sequences of its period, making the fullest use of Leon Shamroy’s pictures—he very deservedly received an Oscar for his work—and a few ingenious particular results, together with utilizing a combination of matte and mannequin work to offer the battling ships the type of crawling liveliness that wouldn’t be a lot seen in such fare till the arrival of CGI. Waring, lastly reduce free in motion, cripples Wogan’s ship by slicing its rudder traces, inflicting the vessel to crash headlong into the shore, after which swims to and boards Leech’s ship to have interaction within the obligatory death-duel along with his nemesis.
Sanders, by no means pressed for a lot bodily appearing, nonetheless rises to the event with some surprisingly deft swordplay, making the ultimate battle a convincingly feral conflict. Waring is skewered within the hip by his opponent, giving him a horrible wound that nonetheless additionally arms him the prospect to dispatch his enemy with one good jab to the stomach.
After all, the spectacle of Waring’s selfless and prodigious derring-do, and his newly prostrate, weakened state, lastly win Margaret over, and she or he contemptuously dismisses Morgan’s provide to see her beastly kidnapper hung. The ultimate clinch, fairly than providing Waring safe reinstatement into well mannered society, gives as an alternative Margaret, now transmuted right into a pirate wench, a sexually sovereign being who feeds again to Waring his personal suggestive catchphrases (“I wish to pattern a bottle earlier than I purchase it”) and recites “Jamie Boy’s” identify thrice in line with an historical and pagan nuptial vow. It’s as horny as film punchlines get.