Friday, February 06, 2009


And now a swerve away from animation ... to Douglas Fairbanks Sr.

But it's only a small swerve, since Doug's screen persona had lots in common with the cartoon characters that came along a decade after Fairbanks's heyday. In fact, the first Mickey Mouse short Gallopin' Gaucho was a riff on one of Doug's classic swashbucklers. The brief clip below demonstrates why animators stole from him, also what they stole:

I bring these things up because a) We're closing in on the 125th anniversary of Fairbanks's birth, and b) There is a nifty new biography out on the man:

Of all the great silent stars, Fairbanks may have given the vast movie audience the purest pleasure—pleasure untinged by the pathos of Chaplin or Keaton or Pickford. What he offered the world was the fun and vigor of healthy, joyous youth ...

Ninety years further on, Douglas Fairbanks suffers the fate of many ancient movie icons: His films are antiques out of a different era and mind-set: black-and-white, silent, often clunky. But if you peer past the pre-historic technology, the charisma and athleticism and high spirits will pull you in and transport you.

Douglas Fairbanks, you see, built the template for modern action films. (All you need to know is that the creator of Batman constructed Bruce Wayne and the Caped Crusader on the foundation of The Mark of Zorro).

So whether you know Douglas Fairbanks's work or not, when you watch The Dark Knight, Pirates of the Caribbean or Indiana Jones, you're peering into mirrors that reflect Robin Hood, The Thief of Baghdad and all the other works in the Fairbanks canon.


Anonymous said...

TERRIFIC POST! And to THINK he had to put up with that DREADFUL "daughter in law."

Steve Hulett said...

Well ... Joan was young then, and not yet a caricature of herself.

Anonymous said...

Great clip! I live in an area of the Valley where they filmed Fairbank's Robin Hood and a couple of pick up shots for Flynn's remake. All the streets are named after Robin Hood places and characters; Sherwood, Little John, Friar, Oak, etc.

Anonymous said...

One of the things hurting acceptance of old silent movie today is the god-awful music tracks being slapped onto them. Like in that clip.

Steve Hulett said...

Fairbanks shot a major part of Robin Hood over on Santa Monica Boulevard at what was later known as the "Goldwyn Studio."

The castle set was ginormous.

RH was -- in its time -- one of the most expensive films in Hollywood history. But Thief of Baghdad in 1924 was bigger.

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