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The Black Swan

The Black Swan(1942)

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teaser The Black Swan (1942)

Though he was a major box office idol, Tyrone Power was never particularlyoverwhelmed by his movie output. "I've done an awful lot of stuff that's amonument to public patience," he once volunteered. Nevertheless, he musthave been relatively pleased with The Black Swan (1942), a Technicolorswashbuckling epic that made up for its bouts of anachronistic dialogue,moments of hokum, and more than a passing resemblance to Errol Flynn'swildly popular Captain Blood (1935), with spectacular visuals and avery able cast.

A critic from The New York Times wrote upon the picture's release,"After seeing The Black Swan...a good many small boys are going tofeel they were born too late into this world." And that was certainlyenough for 20th Century Fox, the studio that released it. Their tag linefor the trailer says it all: "Sea ablaze with black villainy, withbreathless deeds of the roaring era of love, gold, andadventure!" You get the idea.

Power stars as James Waring, an assistant to the infamous pirate, HenryMorgan (Laird Cregar.) Morgan is captured, but his life is spared and he'smade to serve as the new governor of Jamaica, where he's expected todissuade his former cronies from their raping and pillaging. In Jamaica,Waring falls for Margaret Denby (Maureen O'Hara), the daughter of the formergovernor. Not surprisingly, given the circumstances, she isn't interestedin Waring. Morgan makes an effort to clean things up, but a couple ofrenegade pirates (played by George Sanders and Anthony Quinn) refuse torepent. When Waring is sent to defeat them, he forcefully and ratherrudely drags Margaret along on the ship.

Waring soon finds the bad guys, but he and his men are outnumbered. They'reimprisoned, and the pirates boldly attack Cregar's headquarters. But don'tworry. Waring (since he's played by Tyrone Power) will ultimately escapefrom prison and take care of the uprising. You get one guess as to whetheror not O'Hara will fall for him before the closing credits.

Though the narrative is pretty conventional genre stuff, The BlackSwan was nominated for Oscars for Best Musical Score (by Alfred Newman,the uncle of modern day songwriter-score composer Randy Newman), BestSpecial Effects, and Best Color Cinematography (by Leon Shamroy, who walkedaway with the award that year.)

It's somewhat amazing that Power wound up in such heroic roles. Born inCincinnati, Ohio in 1913, he was a sickly child who was taken by his familyto the warmer climate of California, but returned to Ohio when his parentsdivorced. He remained close to his father, a writer who encouraged Tyrone'sinterest in acting. In fact, Power was appearing in a non-speaking role ina play directed by his father when the older man had a heart attack, dyingin his son's arms.

Power served as a pilot in the Marine Corps during World War II, and saw agreat deal of action in the South Pacific. (The Black Swan was oneof the last big budget pictures to be completed before the U.S. officiallyentered the war, and the producers did their part for the effort by limitingthe number of takes that were made of each scene. They felt the chemicalsused in the film could be better utilized by the armed forces.) After thewar, Power's star power held strong. Unfortunately, while shooting yetanother sword duelling scene with his Black Swan co-star, George Sanders, in1958 for Solomon and Sheba (1959), he suffered a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital. Hewas 43 years old.

Directed by: Henry King
Screenplay: Ben Hecht and Seton I. Miller (Based on the novel by RafaelSabatini)
Producer: Robert BasslerCinematography: Leon Shamroy
Editing: Barbara McLean
Music: Alfred Newman
Art Design: Richard Day and James Basevi
Set Design: Thomas Little
Costume Designer: Earl Luick
Principal Cast: Tyrone Power (James Waring), Maureen O'Hara (MargaretDenby), Laird Cregar (Capt. Henry Morgan), Thomas Mitchell (Tommy Blue),George Sanders (Capt. Billy Leech), Anthony Quinn (Wogan), George Zucco(Lord Denby), Edward Ashley (Roger Ingram), Fortunio Bonanova (DonMiguel).

by Paul Tatara

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