The Black Pirate

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USA – Elton Corp. – United Artists, 1926. Directed by Albert Parker. Scenario Lotta Wood, adapted by Jack Cunningham, story by Elton Thomas (Douglas Fairbanks).

This is one of the popular starring roles of Douglas Fairbanks in the 1920s. Having cemented his popularity as Zorro, one of the Four Musketeers and Robin Hood, Fairbanks now took on the larger than life character of a C17th pirate. In fact, there is more to his character than just that, because this is a swashbuckling tale with disguised heroes, bloodthirsty pirate crews, a threatened princess and lots of sea-borne action. Fairbanks always exercised careful control over his films and his on-screen grace and agility is seen in a number of carefully composed and exciting sequences.
The same care was excised on the new fairly new two-strip Technicolor film process. Many silent films had colour added – by hand, by tinting and toning or stencil painting, and by devices such as revolving filters. But Technicolor had developed a process that incorporated colour in the film stock: later they successfully developed three-strip process, which produced the full range of the spectrum. The two-strip process recorded red and green, but not yellow. Fairbanks and his production team went to great lengths to maximise the way they used this palette: even the leading lady was tested for her suitability for the filming in colour.
Of course, it is an old film and the original two-tone colours have to be processed on modern film stock. And the print is likely to show some signs of the wear and tear of years. However, Douglas Fairbanks remains a charismatic and visually engaging star whilst the early Technicolor has its own distinctive palette.
The film is screening at the Nation Media Museum in Bradford on Sunday February 3rd. As an added bonus there will be a live accompaniment with Darius Battiwalla at the piano.

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