The Black Swan

THE BLACK SWAN—-Darryl F. Zanuck, the buccaneer who ran 20th Century Fox, decided that the brigands of Warner Brothers had swiped enough treasure with Errol Flynn that it was past due in ’42 to pillage the cinematic Caribbean. Weapons: the sword arm skill and seductive smile power of Fox fencer Tyrone Power and a broadside of Technicolor. As the rollicking tune behind the titles would have it— “Heave Ho“.

1674. England and Spain make peace (for a while), and pirate lord Henry Morgan (1635-1688), made Governor of Jamaica, orders his crews to cease raiding. ‘Captain Jamie Waring’ (Power) is a rascal, to be sure, yet he’s loyal to Morgan, but ‘Captain Billy Leech’ (George Sanders) refuses to be tamed. Waring becomes smitten with ‘Lady Margaret Denby’ (Maureen O’Hara), the former governor’s daughter, but her betrothed is a weasel undermining the peace treaty, aiding Leech. With beauty rousing his blood, headstrong Jamie and treacherous Leech are bound to fight it out on the Spanish Main. If England and Spain go to war again, well, that was bound to happen anyway, so 21-year-old O’Hara in Technicolor is as good  reason as any.

Henry King’s direction emphasizes zest (or plunder, if you insist on dragging history along), and the script, by pros Ben Hecht and Seton I. Miller went full-bore with Rafael Sabatini’s 1932 novel. Lusty flavor isn’t a surprise, given that Sabatini sired “Captain Blood”, “The Sea Hawk”, and “Scaramouche”: all would splash ashore from page to screen as classic movies. This ripping yarn, produced for $1,493,000, was a big hit, heaving to (or “ho!”) at #12 for the year, raking booty from the realm amounting to $8,600,000.

Power at 28 had already dealt with sandstorms (Suez), firestorms (In Old Chicago), an earthquake, a flood and a plague (The Rains Came), bullfights (Blood And Sand), bank robbing (Jesse James) and the Luftwaffe (A Yank In The R.A.F.), so wielding a cutlass and flinging a wench over his shoulder was simply logical. O’Hara hit a simpatico groove with him, and she tackles the de rigueur manhandling with dignity, spirit and style: she’d do justice to a half-dozen swashbucklers later on. Sanders, once again Power’s nemesis that same year after his brute in Son Of Fury, pulls out the flamboyant stops, complete with a wild red beard and eyebrows you could swab a cannon with. As Power’s sidekick, Thomas Mitchell is on hand, doing his faithful Irish Boozehound business, but the acting honors go to big Laird Cregar, ebullient and commanding as the legendary Morgan, another memorable piece in his too-brief gallery of rogues. *

You can’t go wrong drowning politicians, Morgan.

Leon Shamroy won an Oscar for his sumptuous cinematography (his first of four wins out of 18 career nominations) while Alfred Newman’s romping score drew a nomination (one of his forty-five, with 9 wins: he worked on 16 scores in 1942 alone). The neat Special Effects also grabbed a nom, though another rowdy sea-farer, Reap The Wild Wind, wrested that trophy.

Tailor-made action sails by in 85 minutes, with support from Anthony Quinn (outfitted with eyepatch and scar), George Zucco and Fortunio Bonanova.

* Laird Cregar died two years later, just 30, leaving behind but 16 film roles, excelling in every one of them.  O’Hara, along with figuring in a number of classics, would prove fetching and able with costume escapism in The Spanish Main, Sinbad The Sailor, Bagdad, Tripoli, Flame Of Araby, At Sword’s Point, Against All Flags and Lady Godiva. Load the camera with Technicolor stock, point it at her and call “Action!”  She and Power would team again, in 1955’s enjoyable The Long Gray Line. After he finished shooting The Black Swan, Power braved another ocean, one ablaze with real gunfire and explosions—minus romance—joining the Marine Corps for duty as an aviator in WW2.


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