Film of the Year: 1924: The Great Swashbuckler

February 2, 2007 § Leave a comment

Film of the Year: 1924: The Great Swashbuckler

Camera and editing tricks are well used to power the Arabian Nights-inspired magic items. But, some of the creature effects (especially the beasts our hero tackles along the way) appear less-than-believable and I wonder how these looked to the film’s contemporary audiences. The New York Times review lends a clue, “[the Princess] beholds the daring Thief on his white-winged horse, loping along with the chest he has found at the bottom of the sea. To us this sight of Fairbanks on his steed is one of the finest bits of satire in this beautiful screen effort. It was merely a white horse decorated with wings…when it appeared before the audience the theater was filled with laughter.” (“Fairbanks and Fantasy,” New York Times, 23 March 1924, X5). Based on that I’d say the fake-looking bits looked as unreal to audiences back then as they do to us today. However, we enjoy this picture because it submerges us into a realm of fantasy, not reality, and there’s nothing real about magic ropes of Ispahah, cloaks of invisibility or flying carpets either, and yet they’re all fun to watch.

Because they’re real, and appear for what they are, real ropes, the ropes are magic. By drawing attention to the artifice the magic becomes alive. The magic then as now looked unreal, as true magic should.

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