The Black Swan Blu-ray Review: Entertainment Ahoy!

Adventures rage on the high seas with Fox's latest Blu-ray
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20th Century Fox Home Entertainment appeased movie fans this year with their Voice Your Choice program, wherein readers could vote for which classic films would receive a proper Blu-ray release.  With the year coming to a close, Fox has released all the winners and they’re all special in their own way.  The Black Swan is a quintessential swashbuckler filled with derring-do and swords aplenty.  Anchored (pun kind of intended) by entertaining work from Tyrone Power, Laird Cregar, and Maureen O’Hara, The Black Swan may be out of touch at times, but the adventure on the high seas is unparalleled.  

When Captain Henry Morgan (Cregar) is elected governor of Jamaica, he vows to eradicate piracy and all those who sail under the black flag.  He enlists the help of Jamie “Jamie-Boy” Waring (Power) to hunt down the villainous Captain Billy Leech (George Sanders).  After kidnapping the governor’s daughter, Margaret (O’Hara), Jamie-Boy takes to the high seas to bring Leech down.

The action-adventure film has never been as entertaining or exuberant as it was during its heyday in the ‘30s and ‘40s.  The Black Swan has a fair bit in common with another pirate adventure story, Captain Blood, although Fox went a step beyond by filming this in color (although the colors aren’t as vibrant as they would be once Technicolor took over).  The ship battles and sword fighting are intense and filmed in full-body shots to emphasize to the audience the real risks the actors are taking.  There’s also a filmic quality to the feature, with noticeable sets utilized throughout to give it an otherworldly feel.  The actors are all game, and follow their characters traits to the letter.  The males are all unrecognizable, slathered in an early take on self-tanner that’s laughable at times and borders on blackface at others.  The combination of face darkening and ridiculous facial hair - several villains literally could twirl their mustaches - can surprise the audience; Sanders looks nothing like himself as Leech, and I was shocked to discover it was him.  Other actors, like Cregar especially, exhibit mirth in the ludicrous clothes and wigs.  The exaggerated acting makes for an old-fashioned entertaining romp, with Power leading the charge as the cocky, preening Jamie-Boy.  Power has never looked younger or more sexually charged as he does here, spending almost the entirety of the 85-minute runtime sans shirt.

Old-fashioned is the operative word with The Black Swan because you’ll be taken aback by the treatment of Maureen O’Hara’s character; it could only happen in a movie, and a genre, of this time period.  Jamie-Boys is the precursor to Robin Thicke, constantly telling Margaret he knows she likes him because he can see it “in her eyes.”  He continually tries to assault her, comparing it to trying out wine, and in one sequence hilarious throws her unconscious body on a stone floor like a sack of potatoes.  It’s shocking for modern audiences and indicative of the brutality during the pirate days, so you can’t fault the movie too harshly.  If anything, the script elevates O’Hara’s character above a fey damsel in distress.  Lady Margaret is a scrapper, who actually bites Jamie when he tries to kiss her.  By the end, their love isn’t earned but respected.

As with all of Fox’s Blu-ray releases, the audio is crisp and clear but the pictures colors are significantly mute.  It’s a far cry from the vibrant colors of past releases, although this could be the result of Leon Shamroy’s lighting techniques.  Elements aren’t bright, but almost sepia toned when they don’t look outright garish; the flesh tones of the men and their hair look almost caramel-esque.  The bonus content is miniscule but the commentary from Rudy Behlmer and Maureen O’Hara is a nice touch.  There isn’t much interaction between the two, leading me to believe the two tracks were recorded separately, but each person brings their own spin to the track; Behlmer providing an overview and analysis of the picture, while O’Hara provides anecdotal information.

All in all, The Black Swan is a fun swashbuckler on par with Captain Blood.  There is a bit of unintentional hilarity (the coloring/costuming and the treatment of O’Hara) but all the actors are having a ball and the cinematic quality of moviemaking at this time is evident.  If you haven’t seen it, or want a great quality transfer, it’s a solid addition.

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