Blu-ray News and Reviews | High Def Digest
Film & TV All News Blu-Ray Reviews Release Dates News Pre-orders 4K Ultra HD Reviews Release Dates News Pre-orders Gear Reviews News Home Theater 101 Best Gear Film & TV
Blu-Ray : Recommended
Ranking:
Sale Price: $19.99 Last Price: $ Buy now! 3rd Party 22.19 In Stock
Release Date: July 25th, 2023 Movie Release Year: 1926

Douglas Fairbanks Double Feature: Robin Hood / The Black Pirate

Overview -

Cohen Film Collection has started unveiling a series of Douglas Fairbanks double features, highlighting new restorations of the swashbuckling star’s best known silent adventures. The first set features the Blu-ray debut of the iconic folktale Robin Hood (1922), supported by the two-strip Technicolor romance The Black Pirate (1926). The dashing and athletic Fairbanks is in fine form and these large-scale productions are impressively mounted, especially when one is reminded that all those sets and extras haven’t been conjured by a computer. Silent film fans will flip for these restorations but any viewer who likes a good adventure story will have fun with this set too. Recommended.

A big-screen spectacle that ranks as one of the monumental accomplishments of the silent era, ROBIN HOOD is a timeless story of romance and intrigue, staged on a herculean scale. Its sets were erected by an army of 500 carpenters and towered 90 feet in the air, covering acres of land – historically accurate to the smallest detail. For this restoration, a full frame 35MM fine grain positive was scanned at 4K, with 175 hours of digital clean-up at 2K completed.

Shot in two-strip Technicolor, Fairbanks had conceived of THE BLACK PIRATE years before it was finally made. According to Fairbanks biographer Jeffrey Vance, it was “the most carefully prepared and controlled of Fairbanks’s entire career,” certainly in no small part due to the expense and limitations of the early color process. The resulting film earned high praise from The New York Times, which praised its “unrivalled beauty...mindful of the paintings of the old masters.” A 35MM color negative was mastered in HD for this presentation.

Special Features:
• Audio Commentary for THE BLACK PIRATE by film historian Rudy Behlmer
• 18 minutes of THE BLACK PIRATE outtakes with commentary by Rudy Behlmer
• 29 minutes of additional BLACK PIRATE outtakes

OVERALL:
Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
Blu-ray Disc
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p AVC/MPEG-4
Length:
228
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.33:1
Audio Formats:
Silent
Release Date:
July 25th, 2023

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

Douglas Fairbanks has played numerous iconic swashbuckling heroes, from Zorro to D'Artagnan in The Three Musketeers, but arguably the biggest and most influential is Robin Hood. The 1922 silent epic, titled literally Douglas Fairbanks in Robin Hood on the opening card, is both a template for the numerous Hollywood versions that followed and an intriguing variation on the now-familiar story.

The 2 1/4-hour film, directed by Allan Dwan (Zaza), spends its first half on the part of the Robin Hood story most films simply elide. It shows the rise of Huntingdon, our Robin Hood-to-be, to the right hand of King Richard the Lion-Hearted (played with gusto by Wallace Beery). Huntingdon starts off the film "afeared of women," as he puts it, so naturally this leads to a humorous setpiece where he is chased around by a mob of lustful women, Seven Chances-style. Naturally, he conquers his fear to seek the companionship of Lady Marian (Enid Bennett).

Both the Lady and Richard's crown are coveted by the duplicitous Prince John (a note-perfect villain turn by Sam De Grasse), who can hardly wait for Richard to take his troops to the Middle East on their Crusade, so he can start bilking the people and making the kingdom his own. He sends along a confederate, Gisbourne (Paul Dickey), to make certain that his brother the king doesn't make it out of the Middle East alive. Huntingdon learns of Prince John's misdeeds and goes AWOL from the Crusades to save England, with the help of his squire, Little John (Alan Hale, Sr.).

Once our hero makes it back to England, the film's second half jumps ahead to Huntingdon in full Robin Hood mode. He utilizes his archery skills and swiftly assembled band of Merry Men to fight back against the tyranny of Prince John. Robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, that sort of thing. The film barrels toward a rousing conclusion in which all of its characters inevitably collide, fights are fought, secrets are revealed, and wrongs are righted.

Robin Hood was a blockbuster in its day, and the production values of the enormous castle sets and scenes filled with hundreds of extras are still majorly impressive to modern eyes. With its massive scope and fairly long running time, the film still manages feel light on its feet, balancing the characters, romance, and action with aplomb. To my taste, I give Fairbanks's The Mark of Zorro from a few years earlier a slight edge over this performance from the writer-producer-star, but in total this is a tremendously entertaining adventure film.

The second film of this Blu-ray double feature is a romantic adventure on the high seas, The Black Pirate (1926). Shot in two-strip Technicolor and directed by Albert Parker, the scale of this technically ambitious flick is relatively smaller than Robin Hood but arguably this yarn is no less ripping. Fairbanks plays the sole survivor of a boat looted and blown up by pirates. Fairbanks's father was one of the casualties. In the young man's quest for vengeful justice, he passes himself off as a fellow cutthroat to infiltrate the crew responsible for his dad's death. He impresses by hijacking a merchant ship all on his own, and even convinces his hard-bitten new friends that they could probably ransom the boat instead of blowing it up and killing everyone.

Sam De Grasse appears once again as the perfectly hissable main villain. He is skeptical of Fairbanks's "Black Pirate" and would rather just blow up the ship and have his way with the royal hottie (Billie Dove) onboard. The immediately lovestruck Fairbanks isn't having that, so he tries to get her away with the help of a sympathetic sea dog (How Green Was My Valley's Donald Crisp). De Grasse isn't so dumb, and he makes Fairbanks walk the plank. As in Robin Hood, the characters all collide for a final showdown that is both grand in scale and satisfying in its intimacy. The film is also equally adept at balancing different tones, from moments of brutal violence to tender romantic interludes.

Fans of swashbuckling adventures will be mighty pleased.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Cohen Film Collection presents Douglas Fairbanks Double Feature: Robin Hood / The Black Pirate
on a single BD-50 disc, housed in a standard-sized keepcase. The disc loads to skippable previews for the Cohen Film Collection, Rose, Between Two Worlds, Secret Defense, and Up, Down, Fragile. The ads are followed by a static menu with music from Robin Hood.

Video Review

Ranking:

Both films are presented in high quality AVC-encoded 1080p 1.33:1 pillarboxed presentations. Robin Hood makes its Blu-ray debut in a new 2K restoration, sourced from a 4K scan of a print. The film is in B&W with color-tinted sequences. The image is remarkably clean and offers a strong level of detail. There is still a sporadic flicker throughout Robin Hood due to density fluctuations on the film that couldn't be digitally corrected, but the image is suprisingly stable otherwise. Cohen offers no specific info on The Black Pirate but other online sources speculate that this version is sourced from the same master as Kino's 2010 Blu-ray edition. The image is not as cleaned-up as Robin Hood, with noticeable specks and dirt throughout. The saturation of the two-strip Techinicolor wavers in a few sequences as well, but in general the image has a pleasing half-stylized/half-natural quality due to the subtractive color process. Most of the title cards in The Black Pirate appear to be taken from a B&W print with no color tinting.

Audio Review

Ranking:

Both films are accompanied by orchestral scores, presented in DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo. Robin Hood has a score compiled by Rodney Sauer and performed by the Mont Alto Motion Picture Orchestra. The Black Pirate's score is a version of Mortimer Wilson's original work for the film, arranged and conducted by Robert Israel. It's satisfying to hear actual orchestral groups doing the scores here because it reflects the scope of the films, rather a simpler (and cheaper) piano or synth score.

Special Features

Ranking:

Cohen’s double feature offers no new bonuses, but the disc recycles some welcome supplements from Kino’s earlier releases of The Black Pirate, dating all the way back to that film’s 1996 laserdisc release.

  • Audio COmmentary on The Black Pirate by Rudy Behlmer - Film historian Behlmer offers a thoroughly researched and pleasantly engaging history of the making of the film, discussing not only the massive production but also the intertwining careers of the players involved. (This was recorded pre-IMDB, remember.)
  • The Black Pirate Outtakes with commentary by Rudy Behlmer (HD, 18:06) - Behlmer narrates a series of black-and-white outtakes, demonstrating and explaining how various stunts and action shots were accomplished.
  • Additional Black Pirate outtakes (HD, 29:05) - Nearly a half-hour of silent unused footage showing alternate angles and different takes of material from the film.

Final Thoughts

Cohen Film Collection's first double feature of classic Douglas Fairbanks adventures is a great release for fans or for viewers who want to understand the silent star's appeal. There are the acrobatic stunts, sure, executed on small feet (as Blazing Saddles made clear), but there's also a guileless decency to Fairbanks's characters that make them timeless. The restoration on Robin Hood is pretty jaw-dropping, and The Black Pirate looks excellent for its age. If you're looking for classic adventure, this disc comes Recommended.