Posts Tagged ‘Douglas Fairbanks Jr.’

For the Swashathon: 1941’s The Corsican Brothers

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.

swashathon-flynn

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.

The Corsican Brothers poster 1

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.

Baron Colonna announcing Death to all the Franchis!

Baron Colonna announcing Death to all the Franchis!

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.

Count Franchi and Lorenzo getting ready to defend against Colonna and his henchmen.

Count Franchi and Lorenzo getting ready to defend against Colonna and his henchmen.

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.

One of the many excellent camera shots of Fairbanks, Jr. playing twin brothers, appearing in the same scene.

One of the many excellent camera shots of Fairbanks, Jr. playing twin brothers, appearing in the same scene.

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!!

Lucien(or is it Mario?) introducing Countess Isabelle to the camp.

Lucien(or is it Mario?) introducing Countess Isabelle to the camp.

Baron Colonna makes Countess Isabelle's skin crawl!

Baron Colonna makes Countess Isabelle’s skin crawl!

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.

 

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A Book Review: Princess April Morning Glory

Imagine if you had an uncle who was a world-famous actor, a bona fide movie star.  This uncle was kind and helpful and loving to your family as you were growing up.  When he suddenly passed away, you were very sad, yet you wanted to somehow pay a tribute to him.  With your talents in art and writing, you decide to create a book to honor this beloved uncle.  That is how the picture book Princess April Morning Glory came to exist.Princess April Morning Glory book jacket Letitia Fairbanks was the niece of famous silent film star Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.  As a child, Letitia’s Uncle Douglas was a huge movie star, probably the first “Action Hero” of the movies.  He was the first Thief of Bagdad, the first Zorro, and the first Robin Hood.  His films were box office hits, and Letitia probably had the opportunity to see her uncle in these movies.  When he died suddenly of a heart attack in 1939 at the age of 56, Letitia decided to honor her Uncle with a picture book, based upon a fairytale of her own creation and imagination.  She created and wrote the story, drew the delicate watercolor  illustrations, and  wrote the caligraphy for the text of the story.

Letitia Fairbanks, the niece who honored her late Uncle's memory with her book.

Letitia Fairbanks, the niece who honored her late Uncle’s memory with her book.

Douglas Fairbanks Sr., as The Thief of Bagdad, 1922 silent movie box office hit

Douglas Fairbanks Sr., as The Thief of Bagdad, 1922 silent movie box office hit

When Letitia’s book was complete and ready for the publisher, it was 1941.  Due to her composing the art work with watercolors, and silver and gold leaf, the printing technology of the day couldn’t reproduce the delicate illustrations without a substantial financial cost, so the book was printed in pamphlet form without the illustrations. Moving ahead to 2012 and Princess April Morning Glory was resurrected into a lovely picture book through the efforts and hard work of three individuals: Kelly Smoot Garrett, Danny Garrett, and Amanda Letitia Millner-Fairbanks.  Kelly Smoot Garrett was Letitia’s stepdaughter, and with the aide of Amanda Letitia Millner-Fairbanks, she being Letitia Fairbanks granddaughter, the two ladies got the manuscript ready for publishing.  Danny Garrett, Kelly’s husband, an accomplished artist in his own right, used digital technology to reproduce the delicate watercolor illustrations that Letitia had created so that this time, the illustrations would be alongside the manuscript in the proper picture book format.

An example of the delicate and beautiful illustrations in the book.

An example of the delicate and beautiful illustrations in the book.

Princess April Morning Glory is a charming story.  A young fairy princess, April Morning Glory, is tempted as all are at times, to think that the grass is greener on the other side.  Ignoring the warning of her friend the Blue Butterfly, the princess crosses the magic boundary that separates the Enchanted Kingdom from The Great World.  Once she has crossed that boundary line, Princess April Morning Glory regrets her decision, but she has to go on a journey to find out how she can get back to her loving family in the Enchanted Kingdom.  A kindly wizard informs her that in order to return to her family, she must do 3 good deeds.  Princess April Morning Glory, with her trusted friend, the Blue Butterfly, sets out on her mission of doing 3 good deeds, but as in every fairytale, there is an evil presence, the wicked fairy Misery.  She will try to thwart the Princess in her quest to get back home.

An example of the illustrations added to the caligraphy text in the book.

An example of the illustrations added to the caligraphy text in the book.

This is a lovely picture book, especially to cuddle up with one’s children and read to them before their bedtime.  The illustrations are beautiful and so is the caligraphy.  Letitia Fairbanks even drew delicate, tiny illustrations to help add to the beauty of the  caligraphy that she used for the text of the story.  With her knowledge of Hollywood and her Uncle Douglas’s career, it is fun to look at the illustrations of the characters and note some of their similiarites with actual classic movie stars.  Fairbanks did admit that she based the character of  Prince Chivalry on her cousin, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.   The Wicked King in the story resembles actor John Barrymore, grandfather of actress Drew Barrymore.   To me, the evil fairy Misery sort of resembles Marlene Dietrich, with those sharp cheekbones.  The wise wizard looks like Claude Rains, and at the end of the book, we have an illustration of Princess April Morning Glory all grown up, and that reminded me of Lana Turner!  Of course, it could also be conjectured that it was inspired by Mary Pickford, the author’s late Uncle’s second wife, and an early contender for the title America’s Sweetheart, for her successes in silent and early talking films.

Letitia's cousin, actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr., her inspiration for Prince Chivalry in the book.

Letitia’s cousin, actor Douglas Fairbanks Jr., her inspiration for Prince Chivalry in the book.

For more information about this delightful picture book, please visit PrincessApril.com.  Information is also available about the book at Amazon.com.  With the holidays approaching, this would make a great gift, especially for the child who loves to read and/or loves to be read to.  It would also make a sweet gift for that Classic Movie fan in your life!  To also learn more about Letitia’s Do Good 3 Deeds, visit www.Do3GoodDeeds.com