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THE BLACK SWAN  [Blu-ray] [US Import]
on 31 March 2014
THE BLACK SWAN  [Blu-ray] [US Import] The Archetypal Technicolor Swashbuckler . . . A Timeless Pleasure!
Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara cross romantic swords in this epic Oscar® Winning swashbuckler. Reformed pirate Jamie Boy [Tyrone Power] is supposed to be helping the new governor of Jamaica rid the Caribbean of black-hearted buccaneers. But when he falls head over heels for Lady Margaret [Maureen O'Hara] he kidnaps her and sets sail for the adventure of a lifetime.
FILM FACT: The film won an Academy Award® and was nominated for two more. Won: Best Cinematography for Leon Shamroy. Nominated: Best Visual Effects for Fred Sersen, Roger Heman Sr. and George Leverett. Best Original Score for Alfred Newman. The film is based on a novel by Rafael Sabatini, about the real-life pirate Sir Henry Morgan, who plundered the Caribbean in daring raids with his crew during the 1600s. This was the final film of silent star Helene Costello.
Cast: Tyrone Power, Maureen O'Hara, Laird Cregar, Thomas Mitchell, George Sanders, Anthony Quinn, George Zucco, Edward Ashley (uncredited), Helene Costello (uncredited), John Burton (uncredited), Charles Francis (uncredited), Willie Fung (uncredited), Charles Irwin (uncredited), Frank Leigh (uncredited), Cyril McLaglen (uncredited), Charles McNaughton (uncredited), Clarence Muse (uncredited), Stuart Robertson (uncredited), C. Montague Shaw (uncredited), Arthur Shields (uncredited), David Thursby (uncredited) and Frederick Worlock (uncredited)
Director: Henry King
Producers: Darryl F. Zanuck and Robert Bassler
Screenplay: Ben Hecht and Seton I. Miller
Composer: Alfred Newman
Cinematographer: Leon Shamroy
Audio: English: 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio, French: 1.0 Dolby Digital and Spanish: 1.0 Dolby Digital
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish and French
Video Resolution: 1080p [Technicolor]
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 85 minutes
Region: Region A/1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Andrew's Blu-ray Review: The long-simmering conflict between Britain and Spain has at long last come to an end, and it looks like much the same can be said of piracy on the high seas. The infamous pirate Henry Morgan [Laird Cregar] not only defied death but has been knighted, promising to rid the Atlantic of his former comrades-in-arms on his way to the governorship of Jamaica. He offers his friends a regal pardon and a hundred acres of land a piece if they hang up their Jolly Rogers once and for all. If they don't, well...they'll be staring down the same hangman's noose that Henry Morgan somehow escaped. Captain Jamie Waring [Tyrone Power], himself recently on the wrong side of a Spanish torture rack, eagerly sets sail alongside his long-time friend. Not much of anyone else shares Captain Jamie Waring's enthusiasm. Too many other pirates, among them Captain Billy Leech [George Sanders] and Wogan [Anthony Quinn], sneer at Henry Morgan as one of the king's spies. The residents of Jamaica are even more leery, suspicious that Morgan and his men could ever give up their wicked ways. They're desperate for Henry Morgan and the hangman to face each other once again, and if they have to feed the likes of Billy Leech inside information about well-stocked ships to raid and embarrass their unwelcomed new governor, then that's just what they'll do. Oh, and if preening English gentleman Roger Ingram [Edward Ashley] rakes a captain's share of the loot in the process, all the better. Unfortunately for Morgan, Ingram's ploy works all too well, and every effort thus far to hunt down Leech and company have been stymied.
Facing another cry for impeachment, Henry Morgan sends his best man after Leech in one final, desperate attempt to prove himself worthy of his governorship. Jamie Waring is up to the challenge but has to make one quick pit stop first, stopping to see Lady Margaret [Maureen O'Hara]. It's not enough of a humiliation that Henry Morgan replaced her father as governor or that Jamie Waring is now sleeping in her former bedchamber, but Margaret is dragged kicking and screaming onto a ship by a man she finds utterly repulsive...and on the eve of her wedding to Ingram, no less! Everything seems to be going Jamie Waring's way. He's finally gotten his hands on the girl of his dreams, even if Lady Margaret wants to stab her kidnapper in his sleep. He discovers who the traitor is that's trading privileged information to Leech, and at long last, he even tracks down his former brother in piracy. The only downside is that this all happens at the same time, and Jamie Waring doesn't stand a chance. The ships of Jamie Waring's enemies outclass his in speed and firepower, so he can't run, and he can't fight. Like they say, though, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. That charade buys Jamie Waring a little time, sure, but that's destined to leave him staring down even more cannons than before...
More than seventy years later, `The Black Swan' remains an infectiously fun swashbuckler. Boasting an 85 minute running time and a screenplay by Ben Hecht [‘Notorious’ and ‘His Girl Friday’], among others, the film is remarkably lean and uncluttered. `The Black Swan' is bookended by sprawling sequences of swordplay, moments made that much more frenetic by speeding them up a touch. Though filmed on a soundstage rather than the high seas, its massive models remain surprisingly convincing these many decades later, heightened by the breath-taking Technicolor cinematography of Leon Shamroy. Though Leon Shamroy was the only member of the film's cast and crew to take home a statuette, Alfred Newman was rightly nominated for an Academy Award® for his rousing, high adventure score. As far as the premise goes, there's just something I find endlessly engaging about pirates trying to make good despite the best efforts of supposed gentlemen with no moral character. It's fast, it's breezy, it's thrilling, and a cast with the likes of Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara on the bill ensures that `The Black Swan' is almost always a joy to watch. Tyrone Power would go on to further costume epics, such as ‘Captain From Castile,’ ‘Prince of Foxes’ and ‘The Black Rose,’ yet none of these were able to match the sheer swagger, splendour or pictorial beauty of 'The Black Swan.'
Sadly, another historical spectacle proved to be Tyrone Power's last performance, because in September 1958, Tyrone Power and his wife Deborah went to Madrid and Valdespartera in Spain to film the epic ‘Solomon and Sheba,’ to be directed by King Vidor. On the afternoon of November 15, 1942, he filmed a scene with George Sanders as the villain, in which the two performed a duel with broadswords. Tyrone Power had filmed about 75 percent of his scenes, when he was stricken with a massive heart attack while filming a duelling scene with his frequent co-star and friend, George Sanders. He died en route to the hospital on Saturday, November 15, 1958 and he was only 44. He was aware of his heart condition; in fact it was shortly before leaving for Spain that he did a film for the American Heart Association in which he warned of the dangers of exertion and said "time is the most precious thing we have." ‘Solomon and Sheba’ was the kind of film that demanded physical effort, a costume epic with much action; Tyrone Power was the kind of actor who loathed letting a double do what he felt he could do himself.
Of course, the downside of a film swirling around reformed pirates is that the middle stretch of the film is disappointingly light on action, and far less of `The Black Swan' is set on sea than one might expect. I certainly wouldn't have minded at least one more battle somewhere in the middle; the closest it comes is the blink-and-you-miss-it siege on the Prince Consort, literally ending in seconds. The middle act is dominated by Jamie Waring's infatuation with Lady Margaret, and there's a reason I hesitate to use the word 'romance'. Lady Margaret can barely stomach the sight of this overly persistent and not altogether charming pirate, and though she inevitably falls for the man who kidnapped her as the film draws to a close, her swooning abruptly comes out of nowhere. As much as I enjoy `The Black Swan,' it just doesn't approach the heights of Errol Flynn's most memorable swashbucklers. Not quite a classic but still a great deal of fun and you will get very rewarded in purchasing this stunning Blu-ray disc.
Blu-ray Video Quality – `The Black Swan' arrives on Blu-ray at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, and its 1080p image quality devours most every available byte on this single layer disc. Despite the original camera negative having been lost for decades, the levels of clarity and fine detail showcased on this disc are often startling. Its fine, filmic texture has been faithfully preserved on Blu-ray, afforded a healthy bitrate to ensure that the grain is rendered as accurately as possible. Contrast is, at its best, robust enough to inspire a convincing sense of depth and dimensionality. There is essentially nothing in the way of wear or damage to intrude. No excessive filtering, artificial sharpening, or awkward digital manipulation ever rear their heads either. Its reproduction of The Black Swan's Technicolor photography, described by actress Maureen O'Hara and film historian Rudy Behlmer in the disc's audio commentary as being painterly and impressionistic in approach, is more problematic. In the early moments of the film, flesh tones are uneven, sometimes coming across as claylike. The faux-tropical sets uncomfortably alternate between lush, vivid foliage and sickly, pale greens. The original Technicolor elements for `The Black Swan' were almost certainly junked by Fox in the 1970s, saddling the team behind this presentation with a heavily faded single-strip source. Given the severe limitations of what 20th Century Fox was left to work with, what they've accomplished with this Blu-ray release borders on miraculous. Still, it will forever remain a crushing disappointment that short-sighted and poorly implemented decisions from forty years ago prevent us from fully appreciating these films as they were originally meant to be seen.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – `The Black Swan' boasts a 24-bit 1.0 DTS-HD Master Audio monaural soundtrack that leaves little room for complaint. The hiss lurking in the background is too mild to pose any sort of distraction, and there are no clicks, pops, or dropouts to tear viewers away from the swashbuckling adventure. The audio is respectably clean and clear, and dynamic range isn't limited to any greater extent than anticipated. Not exceptional but in no way disappointing. Also offered are Dolby Digital monaural dubs in French and Spanish. Subtitles are limited to English SDH, Spanish and French.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Audio Commentary: Commentary by Rudy Behlmer and Maureen O'Hara: This has been carried over from the previous DVD release and is a feature-length conversation between actress Maureen O'Hara and film historian Rudy Behlmer. It's an extremely charming interview reflecting on Maureen O'Hara's career and the Golden Age of Hollywood, although ‘The Black Swan’ really isn't the central focus. Maureen O'Hara does speak about The Black Swan's cinematography, colour testing, makeup, swordplay, effects work, legendary studio brass, and co-stars, though her comments are often in more general terms and largely about the way films from this era were made overall. There are brief notes about how drastically this film diverges from Raphael Sabatini's novel and how the ending was replaced, but neither Rudy Behlmer nor Maureen O'Hara touches on how the end product differs. I would have liked to have heard more about the production of ‘The Black Swan’ in particular, but I found myself hopelessly won over by O'Hara's kinship with other Irish actors, such stories as the actress yanking her stolen mink coat off a lapdog, and later being in a position to put an alarm clock on top of the camera to indicate when she's leaving for the day, even if she were in the middle of a take. A terrific and very worthwhile listen and was well worth hearing Maureen O'Hara telling us how Tyrone Power and her good self would sneak off the have their favourite ice cream and in doing so got back late to the studio and got a good telling off by Darryl F. Zanuck.
Theatrical Trailer  [480i] [4:3] [2:02] The only other extra is a theatrical trailer.
Finally, ‘The Black Swan’ is full of action and it is a fun and thrilling swashbuckler with romantic energy and one that its many fans voted to see on a Blu-ray release and their wishes were granted. Tyrone Power is a very devilish romantic believable as a pirate, and especially with is fine romantic skirmishes with Maureen O'Hara, who is her typically tempestuous self. The supporting cast is one of the chief pleasures here, as are the stunning cinematography images by Leon Shamroy and of course the awesome swashbuckling music of composer Alfred Newman. ‘The Black Swan’ is in the golden tradition of boyish adventures, and I suspect small children after watching this film will probably be brandishing wooden swords in the lounge and running amok in slitting the sofa pillows for some time to come. But I also bet a lot of grown-ups are going to want to do the same. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Fan
Le Cinema Paradiso
WARE, United Kingdom