Black Swan, The (Blu-ray Review)27 Jan, 2014 By: Mike Clark
Stars Tyrone Power, Maureen O’Hara, George Sanders, Thomas Mitchell, Laird Cregar.
Leon Shamroy’s first of four color cinematography Oscar winners probably wouldn’t be much in black-and-white, but this like saying a Laurence Olivier movie wouldn’t be the same if it were Ty Hardin in the lead. Of course, the Ty we’re talking about here is Ty Power in Technicolor hunk mode — headlining another adventure where swashes get buckled in the kind of larger-than-life screen vehicle that the actor didn’t want home studio 20th Century-Fox to keep putting him in, though it was obvious all along that Nightmare Alleys were always going to be few and far between (and boy, were they). The three-strip Technicolor here also makes co-star Maureen O’Hara’s skin tones look just about porcelain — check them out when she’s all tied up on ship late in the movie — which is not the way I usually think of her, though this is meant as a compliment.
In the what-a-difference-an-article-can-make department, the story, of course, has nothing to do with Natalie Portman’s plain old Black Swan. It might, in fact, be described as “Full Metal Rafael Sabatini,” dealing as it does (and this is just the opening) with torture on the rack and the pillaging of Jamaican villages roundabout 1674 (fires that engulf towns were always impressive in Technicolor: think Gone With the Wind). The great Laird Cregar plays the real-life English Capt. Henry Morgan, who in this rendering has just patched up some differences with King Charles II and been made the new Jamaican governor in light of a new England-Spain peace treaty. I’ve always found the story a tad difficult to sort out in the early going, and this is one of those yarns where allegiances change from time to time — and especially so in the case (not that this part is ever confusing) of the relationship between pirate Power and O’Hara, daughter of the former governor. The two get testy with each other right off the bat, which is par for the course in these kinds of adventures. But it only takes her about 82 minutes to come around (the movie runs 85).
Give Anthony Quinn an eye patch, especially when he was young, and he looks like someone absolutely not to be trusted even as pirates go (the same year Swan came out, Quinn was also the heavy in Road to Morocco). Give George Sanders, at any stage of his career, a bushy red beard of tints that God doesn’t appear to have created, and he looks like the Missing Link. Thomas Mitchell is around as well (loyal Power pal), but as was often the case, Cregar is the movie’s live wire, playing Morgan. The behemoth actor, who died at 31 following crash-diet complications that he hoped would broaden his casting opportunities, generally played polished or urban types on screen, but also had a flair for bigger-than-life adventurers or even rustics (check him out in Hudson’s Bay sometimes, his first major role).
The color is really the thing here, and again, the movie wouldn’t be much without it. Cosmetically, though, this is pretty much on a par with the fabulous Blu-ray of the Fox/Power Blood and Sand from 1941, which got its own Blu-ray release last year. Carried over from the DVD is the joint commentary by supreme-o film historian Rudy Behlmer and Ms. O’Hara herself, who talks of dining with Cregar just before his death, which I believe was on an operating table. If you ever see the actor’s final film, Hangover Square, the weight loss is dramatic, though he was still a big guy by anyone’s standards.