The Black Pirate (1926) – reviewed by George

As the film begins, pirates are walking past their captain carrying the bodies of the seamen killed during the boarding of their ship. The captain checks the corpses’ fingers and removes any rings. The pirates march on, making a pile of the bodies. Other pirates have lashed the survivors to a mast and are laying a trail of powder from the bound men to the powder room. After the looting of the cargo is finished the pirates light the powder trail and depart. As they row away we watch the survivors struggle, and then in a long shot the ship explodes.
Douglas Fairbanks and an old man are the sole survivors. How is not explained; I guess they left the ship as soon as it was boarded. Doug gets his friend through the waves to an island, but the old man is spent. He gives Doug a ring and expires. Doug vows vengeance while, in an island hideaway, the pirate leaders divvy up the loot and make plans to hide the rest of the treasure in a secret place.
A title card says “MAROONED”, but I think you have to be marooned by people, not by happenstance. Doug is just stuck on an uninhabited island, which, in a pretty heavy coincidenca, is the secret place the pirates have been talking about.
There are sword fights, cannon firings, an underwater attack that made me think of “Thunderball”, walking the plank, saving the fair maiden from the pirates by claiming she’s a princess and so worth ransom, and a few surprises, and a happy ending. I liked the film a lot, but was not wild about it; the fantasy elements are just a little too big.
The film, in two-strip Technicolor, was directed by Albert Parker and written by Jack Cunningham from a story by Doug himself. The musical score by Mortimer Wilson is a lot of fun; very tuneful AND it references “Camptown Races” and “Fifteen Men on a Dead Man’s Chest”. Incidentally, I’m sure this is the music written for the pianist or organist in the theater to play, because Wilson died in 1932, and I feel certain that’s before any restoration, or even any conversion to sound.
Doug plays the Black Pirate (his ID after joining the pirate band), Billie Dove plays Isobel, the love interest, Tempe Pigott plays her nanny-maid-duenna, Donald Crisp plays McTavish, the one-armed pirate most sympathetic to Doug, Anders Randolph plays the Pirate Captain, and Sam de Grasse plays the Pirate Lieutenant, the principal villain. And Doug’s real father plays his father in the movie.

One point of interest: I could not find any reference to the exchange rate between pieces of eight and British pounds sterling in any time frame, not just the one in the movie. Actually, I found one, but could not believe it. I was interested because the number of pirates appears to be huge – at least a hundred, possibly more – they fill the screen. And the ransom for the Princess and the ship she was on was 50,000 pieces of eight, which, according to McTavish, is 50 pounds per man. I wanted the exchange rate to calculate the number of men in the crew. Can anyone help?
August 19, 2016 – On the day I wrote this review I found a rate of exchange on Wikipedia, but it said that the piece-of-eight and the pound had the same value: 1 ounce of silver. I threw that out; it would mean 1000 pirates! Sure, the crew was huge, but not that huge. Today my daughter sent me a link (http://pirates.hegewisch.net/money.html) which reiterates the same value of the pound and the piece-of-eight, but also includes the information that the British crown routinely favored the pound by setting the exchange rate such that the value of the piece-of-eight was 1/2 or even 1/4 that of the pound. So taking the lower rate we now have 250 pirates. Wow! Must have been a bigger pirate ship than I thought. (Thank you, Jen!)

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One Response to The Black Pirate (1926) – reviewed by George

  1. jendiazinfante says:

    For Pieces of Eight value see http://pirates.hegewisch.net/money.html

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