After reviewing the great Flicker Alley DVD set Douglas Fairbanks: A Modern Musketeer from MSN and spotlighting the set as my “DVD of the Week” with a longer review, I was asked to take another, much more in-depth look for the Turner Classic Movies website.
The image of Douglas Fairbanks that springs to mind to even the most dedicated silent movie fan is that of the grinning swashbuckling hero. From The Mark of Zorro in 1920 to The Iron Mask in 1929, Fairbanks was the dashing leading man of dynamic costume epics defined by his verve and acrobatic energy. But before he leapt into the public’s imagination in those flamboyant action epics, Douglas Fairbanks was a charismatic and decidedly contemporary leading man of light romantic comedies, a rambunctious urbanite facing the adventures of modern life and modern love with comic grace and athletic flair. Flicker Alley’s magnificent box set Douglas Fairbanks: A Modern Musketeer is not just a survey of Fairbanks’ career leading up to The Mark of Zorro. In the words of Fairbanks biographers Jeffrey Vance and Tony Maietta, who write the essay in the accompanying booklet, “this set charts his evolution from screen satirist to swashbuckler.”
Fairbanks made twelve features in eighteen months at Triangle, including Flirting With Fate, a dark comedy directed by William Christy Cabanne, and The Matrimaniac, scripted by Anita Loos and directed by Paul Powell (with cinematography by future director Victor Fleming), both included in this set. These are more comedies than adventures and Fairbanks is a romantic comic lead whose athletic talents are an extension of his gags, much like Chaplin’s slapstick grace, Keaton’s daring play with massive mechanical props (like a moving steam engine) or Harold Lloyd’s thrill stunts. They defined the Fairbanks screen persona as the all-American urban man with a chivalrous streak and an enthusiasm that bursts out of him in feats of gymnastic joy. Whether he was the working stiff with big dreams or the foppish scion of a business magnate who transforms into the man of action, he was always “Doug,” onscreen and off.
Read the entire feature on TCM here.