This energetic Douglas Fairbanks Jr. swashbuckler is one which will easily make my list of most enjoyable new to me discoveries for the calendar year 2018. It’s an old fashioned Hollywood adventure that represents a time past. In large part it’s thanks to Fairbanks lively performance as a poetry spouting Irishman caught up in romance and a pack of Bonaparte’s spies that can’t help but win one over.
Fairbanks is headed back to claim his ancestral home in Ireland when he’ll come across a coach robbery that is to set the plot and his heart in motion. Napoleon’s agents are in the region and attempting to prevent the beautiful Helena Carter from delivering a letter to her Father, a military general. As she’s about to be robbed of it and perhaps more, Fairbanks comes to her aid and quickly rushes off inside the coach with the fair lady. And so begins his romantic plight to win her over with his gift of gab and a talent for poetry and rhyme. She’ll hold him off for the time being and he’ll be on his way to the Castle O’Flynn. When the highwaymen are again spotted, the coach moves on in a decoy move while she herself hikes it up the hill to Fairbank’s castle.
It’s at the castle that Fairbanks will find his two sidekicks, J.M. Kerrigan and Arthur Shields. Shields of course fits right into a tale of Ireland having been born in Dublin as was his more famous brother Barry Fitzgerald. Shields will act as a comedy relief and a perfect patsy for the conning ways of Fairbanks. When the fair lady arrives at the castle, the spies are right behind her along with lovely Patricia Medina, an innocent girl who’s looking for money and adventure, all seeking shelter from the raging storm outside. It’s at this point that Carter will have to confide in Fairbanks who instantly gives his loyalty over to her rescuing her once more from harm and the two escape into the night towards Dublin.
Upon their arrival, her father is impressed enough to make Fairbanks a commissioned officer in the military. The problem is he’s under the command of Richard Greene. The fiancé to his lady love. On the plus side, Greene is a turncoat and Medina his mistress. It’s not hard to see where all this is going to lead so I’m not worried about playing spoiler. It’s just the fact that I had so much fun watching the journey. One that had me smiling and cheering Fairbanks along to beat the French (sorry), do away with the dastardly Greene and claim the hand of Miss Carter. And of course live happily ever after at Castle O’Flynn.
I suppose it’s my romantic side, old fashioned as it is that finds this movie so appealing to me. Fairbanks doing everything he can to win over his lady leads to a number of fun even memorable scenes. Notably as he gets her to descend a set of steps towards him by coming up with a rhyme for each one. Should he fail, she won’t reach him and that would spoil the kiss he’s anticipating. If he could just prove himself a hero and unveil all the treachery that’s about.
Fairbanks not only stars here as a Romeo in a soldier’s outfit giving us tales of Leprechauns and curses but also produced and claimed a writing credit. He’d steadily move into producing his features culminating in the Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Presents series for television. Leading lady Helena Carter had a short career on camera, Invaders From Mars probably being her most well known title and one that proved to be her swansong retiring shortly thereafter.
Richard Greene is an actor well suited to these affairs and could just have easily played the heroic part though perhaps with not quite the same “blarney” that Fairbanks injected into the part. Along with Medina, Shields and company filling in the co-starring roles, I spotted a young John Doucette as one of the highwaymen out to do harm to Helena and Doug. Western fans I’m sure would recognize this long serving character actor from any number of films and TV appearances.
As much as I enjoyed this I wish it were in color as it’s practically begging for it. I also can’t help but wonder if it’s just me not knowing the film, and I don’t wish to be unkind to Fairbanks, but if it had starred an aging Flynn or a young Lancaster or Wilde, would it be better known? At least to me? As I say, that’s unfair to Fairbanks and I’m glad a friend gifted me a copy of this title that until now had remained unknown to me.
As a bonus, here’s a music video titled Hold On To Your Hat that’s perfectly suited to the film. The energy of both the song and the movie clips are nicely matched so give it a look.