The Black Swan (1942)
The Black Swan (1942)

Genre: Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 27 min.

Release Date: December 4th, 1942 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Henry King Actors: Tyrone Power, Maureen O’Hara, Laird Cregar, Thomas Mitchell, George Sanders, Anthony Quinn, George Zucco

 


 

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t midnight, when all is well (and the governor’s daughter has finally recovered from an illness), pirates strike, storming the official’s estate to steal jewelry, clothing, all manner of valuables, and women. But despite a successful looting, all Captain Jamie Waring (Tyrone Power) can think about is Captain Henry Morgan (Laird Cregar), who is to be hanged on the docks in London. The buccaneers’ revelry is cut short when Don Miguel’s (Fortunio Bonanova) men surround the thieves and capture Waring. In short time, he’s being tortured on the rack by the Don, who demands the whereabouts of Morgan, who managed to escape from his own imprisonment.

Fortunately, before Jamie can be torn to pieces, trusty henchman Tommy Blue (Thomas Mitchell) and his minions retake the castle, putting Miguel on the rack in the sea rat’s place. Lord Denby (George Zucco), the governor of Jamaica, is similarly overthrown and locked in his own dungeon. And just as Waring is about to steal away with the governor’s daughter (“This is a windfall …”), Lady Margaret Denby (Maureen O’Hara), Captain Morgan himself makes an appearance, claiming to have been pardoned and released by King Charles II, to assume leadership over Jamaica. England and Spain have supposedly brokered a peace deal, and the Empire wishes to maintain law-abiding colonies; the reign of privateers is over. But a branch of Caribbean pirates feels it’s all a trap, with Morgan serving as a spy to quash his former allies.

A story of the Spanish Main, when love, gold, and adventure were the only creeds (set in 1674), “The Black Swan” immediately boasts sea-faring battles, swordfights, medieval torture, feisty wenches, and plenty of wine and rum. As such, Morgan’s appointment for law and order is sure to be short-lived. In the same vein, Jamie is quite the scoundrel, forcing himself upon Lady Margaret at every opportunity and humiliating her boyfriend (Edward Ashby as Roger Ingram) to prove his physical superiority. It will take a good stretch of time – and Margaret’s best efforts to rebuff his advances – before the pirate captain can behave like a gentleman in order to properly woo his conquest.

The romance subplot is a bit coarse at first (more akin to rape than courtship), and then too easy when the love triangle disintegrates due to convenient twists, but O’Hara is perfect in her role (portending her hellcat turn in “The Quiet Man” a decade later). Power is less fitting as a scruffy rogue, particularly in his boyish demeanor (struggling to hide behind some facial hair), though the donning of a crimson bandana, a flowing cape, and a wide-brimmed black hat gives his countenance a certain degree of swashbuckling gallantry. “Unfortunately, I have a tender feeling for you.”

The primary pirating plot fares better, as kidnapping, betrayal, treason, and subterfuge fuel shaky allegiances. George Sanders provides a practically unrecognizable portrayal as the leader of the dissidents, Captain Billy Leech, while Anthony Quinn as an eye-patched ruffian and Cregar as the bellowing, rotund ruler of Jamaica couldn’t be more suitable in their turns. When the bitter enemies and triple-crossing factions finally collide at Maracaibo, audiences are treated to a spectacular show of cannon fire, fast-paced cutlass duels, and a tremendously satisfying (if terribly unlikely) conclusion. It may not be the best of the pirate adventure films, but “The Black Swan” holds its own against the Errol Flynn pictures of the era.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10