Saturday, June 20, 2009

Swashes Buckled

Last weekend, Amy and I once again bypassed the latest summer movies, and headed to the Aero Theater in Santa Monica for a double bill of Hollywood past's finest swashbuckling: CAPTAIN BLOOD and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD. American Cinematheque, which put on the program, presented the movies in style; before the first film began, a stage-fencing teacher and his students put on a demonstration of historical and Hollywood swordfighting that was a treat to watch.

As for the films, they remain crowd-pleasers despite being over 70 years old. ROBIN HOOD and CAPTAIN BLOOD are surprisingly different from each other, despite sharing a director (Michael Curtiz) and most of the cast (including lead Errol Flynn; romantic foil Olivia de Havilland; and Basil Rathbone, who has relatively minor role in BLOOD but graduates to main heavy Guy of Gisborne in ROBIN HOOD).

ROBIN HOOD is a straightforward tale of a nobleman whose heroism leads him to become an outlaw (although he certainly seems to have plenty of fun doing it). And it has some sparkling dialogue. (Marian: "You speak treason!" Robin: "Fluently.")

CAPTAIN BLOOD, a historical-fiction epic, is more morally complex, as one might expect since it adapts a 20th-Century novel. It tells how adventurer-turned-physician Peter Blood is unjustly convicted in the Bloody Assizes; sentenced to slavery in colonial Jamaica; escapes; and becomes a Pirate of the Caribbean. Flynn's attempt at an Irish brogue is awful (he and other characters have to keep telling the audience he's Irish; occasional interjections of "Faith!" and calling male characters "darlin'" isn't enough) but his twinkling eyes and devil-may-care grin are magnetic.

Each is marked by fantastic action set pieces, the most wonderful of which is the climactic swordfight between Flynn and Rathbone in ROBIN HOOD -- perhaps the most entertaining one in Hollywood history.

There's no substitute for watching films like this on a big screen, with a cheering audience that's in the mood to be thrilled.

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