The Black Swan
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Though he was a major box office idol, Tyrone Power was never particularly overwhelmed by his movie output. "I've done an awful lot of stuff that's a monument to public patience," he once volunteered. Nevertheless, he must have been relatively pleased with The Black Swan (1942), a Technicolor swashbuckling epic that made up for its bouts of anachronistic dialogue, moments of hokum, and more than a passing resemblance to Errol Flynn's wildly popular Captain Blood (1935), with spectacular visuals and a very 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 to feel they were born too late into this world." And that was certainly enough for 20th Century Fox, the studio that released it. Their tag line for the trailer says it all: "Sea ablaze with black villainy, with breathless deeds of daring...in the roaring era of love, gold, and adventure!" You get the idea.
Power stars as James Waring, an assistant to the infamous pirate, Henry Morgan (Laird Cregar.) Morgan is captured, but his life is spared and he's made to serve as the new governor of Jamaica, where he's expected to dissuade his former cronies from their raping and pillaging. In Jamaica, Waring falls for Margaret Denby (Maureen O'Hara), the daughter of the former governor. Not surprisingly, given the circumstances, she isn't interested in Waring. Morgan makes an effort to clean things up, but a couple of renegade pirates (played by George Sanders and Anthony Quinn) refuse to repent. When Waring is sent to defeat them, he forcefully and rather rudely drags Margaret along on the ship.
Waring soon finds the bad guys, but he and his men are outnumbered. They're imprisoned, and the pirates boldly attack Cregar's headquarters. But don't worry. Waring (since he's played by Tyrone Power) will ultimately escape from prison and take care of the uprising. You get one guess as to whether or not O'Hara will fall for him before the closing credits.
Though the narrative is pretty conventional genre stuff, The Black Swan was nominated for Oscars for Best Musical Score (by Alfred Newman, the uncle of modern day songwriter-score composer Randy Newman), Best Special Effects, and Best Color Cinematography (by Leon Shamroy, who walked away with the award that year.)
It's somewhat amazing that Power wound up in such heroic roles. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1913, he was a sickly child who was taken by his family to the warmer climate of California, but returned to Ohio when his parents divorced. He remained close to his father, a writer who encouraged Tyrone's interest in acting. In fact, Power was appearing in a non-speaking role in a play directed by his father when the older man had a heart attack, dying in his son's arms.
Power served as a pilot in the Marine Corps during World War II, and saw a great deal of action in the South Pacific. (The Black Swan was one of the last big budget pictures to be completed before the U.S. officially entered the war, and the producers did their part for the effort by limiting the number of takes that were made of each scene. They felt the chemicals used in the film could be better utilized by the armed forces.) After the war, Power's star power held strong. Unfortunately, while shooting yet another sword duelling scene with his Black Swan co-star, George Sanders, in 1958 for Solomon and Sheba (1959), he suffered a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital. He was 43 years old.
Directed by: Henry King
Screenplay: Ben Hecht and Seton I. Miller (Based on the novel by Rafael Sabatini)
Producer: Robert Bassler Cinematography: 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 (Margaret Denby), 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 (Don Miguel).
by Paul Tatara