I love a good, action movie. Sword fights, so much the better! Not the modern versions of sword fights that show all of the gore(I’m referring to you, 1995 film Rob Roy.) I know that in real life, a sword fight was a bloody battle, but I like the classic films that depict sword fights with the ultimate battle involving the baddie fighting the hero, with little blood flowing. The baddie usually ends the fight by grasping his fatal wound, eyes shut, staggering backwards, then falling over, dead.
When I found out that my favorite blog dedicated to silent movies was going to host a “Swashathon” dedicated to swashbuckler movies, I jumped right in. Be sure to visit Movies, Silently and read about all of the swashbuckler films being paid homage to this weekend.
On November 28th, 1941, the film The Corsican Brothers premiered to rave reviews. Distributed by United Artists, the film was based on French writer Alexandre Dumas’s adventure novel. Like many of Dumas’s works of fiction, The Corsican Brothers has a rollicking plot with lots of action.
Director Gregory Ratoff, working with the screenplay by George Bruce and Howard Estabrook, kept the story flowing fast;never a dull moment in this movie. To play the main characters, identical twin brothers, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. won the role. The movie’s main baddie played by a blustery and glowering Akim Tamiroff. The lovely Ruth Warrick is the love interest and damsel in distress. The wonderful supporting cast: J. Carrol Naish, H.B. Warner, Henry Wilcoxon, Gloria Holden, Walter Kingsford, and Nana Bryant.
The movie opens on the island of Corsica and we quickly meet two noble families, the good Franchi family and the evil Colonna family. It is known in the village that Countess Franchi(Gloria Holden) is about to give birth to her first child, and that all of Count Franchi’s(Henry Wilcoxon) relatives have come to his home to await the birth. Across town, Baron Colonna(Akim Tamiroff) and his minions are eating a meal and when the Baron learns that all of the Franchis are in one spot, he decides to attack them and murder them all! There is a blood feud between the two families, and it’s explained that in 1841 Corsica, when this story takes place, all Corsicans follow the idea of an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
Countess Franchi bravely labors away in her gorgeous bedroom with the attentive care of Dr. Paoli(H. B. Warner) and a nun/nurse. Shortly after her twin sons are born, it is known to all that the Countess is dying. The Count hurries in to see his wife and his sons; he is overjoyed that God has blessed him with two sons! Dr. Paoli quietly tells him that the twins are conjoined. The Count is crushed by this news, and he begs the doctor to surgically separate the boys. Before a surgery can happen, Dr. Paoli manages to sneak the twins out of the mansion, with the help of Franchi family servant Lorenzo(J. Carrol Naish). Sadly, all of the rest of the Franchis are killed by Baron Colonna and his henchmen. There’s a touching moment as the nun is helping with the babies escape and she begs her mistress to leave too, but the Countess bravely smiles and tells the nun to not worry for her, as she’ll face her death with bravery and grace.
Dr. Paoli, back at his home with the babies and Lorenzo, shares his fear that Colonna won’t believe that the babies died in the inferno that engulfed the Franchi home and that he must somehow hide these boys until they are of age. The surgery has been done and the babies are now separated twins. With Lorenzo’s suggestion, they contact the Franchi’s good friends, Monsieur and Madame Dupre,(Walter Kingsford and Nana Bryant) who are childless. After the babies are baptized and christened Mario and Lucien, the Dupre’s take baby Mario back with them to Paris. Lorenzo agrees to raise Lucien, in the hills of Corsica, near the village of the Franchis.
20 years fly by. Mario is a cultured and educated young man. He meets Corsican Countess Isabelle Gravini and it’s love at first sight for him. At the Paris Opera House, where they meet, he protects her from the attentions of a clod, who later assaults Mario. When Mario suffers a wound in his shoulder, Lucien awakes with a pain in his shoulder! Despite being separated, Lucien feels the pains, pangs and passions his twin brother experiences.(Cue the Twilight Zone music! By the way, I have identical twin daughters, and they have never experienced this “spiritual twin” syndrome, as Dr. Paoli calls it.) Here’s a clip, courtesy of TCM, of this “spiritual twin” syndrome, and the meeting of Countess Isabelle and Mario.
When Mario and Lucien turn 21, Dr. Paoli asks for the Dupres to allow Mario to travel to Corsica as it’s time for the boys to meet and learn the truth of their ancestry. The Dupres comply and Mario and Lucien meet for the first time. Both brothers vow to avenge their parents death at the hands of Baron Colonna. Here’s the clip of that scene, also courtesy of TCM. The rest of the movie deals with the brothers exacting their revenge, with a love “square” getting put into the plot.
I say love “square” instead of triangle because this plot device involves 4 people. Countess Isabelle loves Mario,Mario loves Countess Isabelle, Lucien loves Countess Isabelle(he has some fun getting her to kiss him as she thinks he’s Mario and he’s not about to correct her!), and evil Baron Colonna has seen Countess Isabelle, has asked her father for her hand, and when her father says, “No”, Colonna has him poisoned so that he can pursue the Countess unhindered!!
There is a somewhat sad plot point added to the end of the film, but it also ties the story line up neatly, like a bow. Fairbanks, Jr. is just fantastic as Mario/Lucien. He’s athletic, gorgeous, and sincere in his acting the dual roles. The special effects for this film were well done: scenes where Fairbanks, Jr. plays the twins talking to each other, or in scenes where both twins are with other actors at the same time. One scene where the twins get into a fight with one another, yes another actor/double was used but the fight was so carefully choreographed and shot from afar, that it’s hard to tell the double from Fairbanks, Jr.
Wilcoxon and Holden, the doomed Franchi parents,are noble and brave. H.B. Warner as Dr. Paoli is tender-hearted and wise. J. Carrol Naish is great as servant Lorenzo, who raises Lucien to be a defender of the people against the evil Colonna, and Kingsford and Bryant are also warm and wise, as the childless couple who raise Mario as their own. Ruth Warrick is so pretty, and has a natural chemistry with Fairbanks, Jr. I’d like to think they had a lovely time making this film together. Tamiroff has a blast playing Colonna and his sword fight scene showdown with Mario is a great scene. They fight in a large room, but with furniture to knock over and wounded bodies to dodge, plus a large mirror is used for good visual effect. Spoiler in this clip. If you don’t want to know what it is, then don’t watch this clip! Here it is, courtesy of Youtube.
TCM aired The Corsican Brothers this past July, the first time they had ever aired it. Check their schedule, especially in 2016 as I am sure they’ll be airing this film again. It’s available to purchase at Amazon in a dvd or to watch it through their prime instant video. It’s also available at TCM’s Shop.
For an excellent tale complete with swashbuckling derring do, seek out The Corsican Brothers.