Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Douglas Fairbanks as Robin Hood: A Renaissance of Joy

There is a touch of spring and youth in the air. Could that be Douglas Fairbanks?


It seems there is a Douglas Fairbanks Sr. restoration movement afoot. Notice any similarity?
How about now?


All of a sudden silent films are "in" and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., one of the most overlooked of super stars, is putting feelers out in the universe. While watching Jean Dujardin in "The Artist" I couldn't get over the obvious homage to Fairbanks. Just in case I was imagining it, Dujardin, in his Oscar acceptance speech, noted that Fairbanks was the host of the very first Academy Awards ceremony. He then went on to pay tribute to Doug in this very charming manner:
And just because the universe is like that sometimes, my wonderful local theater was showing the epic "Douglas Fairbanks as Robin Hood" last night (live music by the great Ben Model).

Douglas Fairbanks had a child's love of fantasy and adventure. The stories he loved as a boy influenced his cinematic persona and the stories he chose to tell. As his personality evolved from the go-getter young man to the swashbuckling adventurer, Fairbanks gave in more and more to his inner child. His cinema recreations of his favorite classics are told from the viewpoint of an adolescent boy. They are innocent, chaste, playful and athletic. Oh, and damn entertaining. Robin Hood was a perfect story for Doug with all of the right ingredients: a noble hero, dastardly villains (Paul Dickey as Sir Guy of Gisbourne and Sam De Grasse as oily Prince John are hiss-provoking), a virginal maiden with spunk, all taking place in the land of knights and castles and bows and arrows.



The 1922 production was one of the biggest the world had seen. The sets alone are amazing, Doug's stunts are eye-popping and, although the film is over two hours long, it zips along without any dead stretches. It also has Wallace Beery as a rather comical Richard the Lionhearted and Alan Hale as Little John (Hale reprises this role again in 1938's "The Adventure of Robin Hood"). The film had the added distinction of being the first film to be shown at the grand Egyptian Theater.
It's nice to be able to watch our favorite films on TCM in the comfort of our home, but it can't beat the special, shared experience of seeing a great silent film in a theater where the audience collectively holds its breath, chuckles with delight and generally falls under the spell of the magical Mr. Fairbanks. 90 years after the film was made, it still thrills, it still enchants. This is largely due to the vision and the artistry of Douglas Fairbanks, for this film is 100% his vision. By now, we've seen bigger, we've seen better, we've seen it all, but Doug is still a shining star. I think he'd be pleased.
There is a great temptation to compare the Fairbanks Robin Hood to the Errol Flynn Robin Hood. Though the characters are the same, the films are totally different in plot line, tone and style. Flynn is a devil-may-care charmer, but he's all man. Doug is virile, too, but he is a hero out of a story book, a man the way an innocent, adolescent boy sees a man. Doug, by the way, under his pseudonym "Elton Thomas" assisted in the screenplay.

Douglas Fairbanks communicates his love of movies the way a dancer communicates the joy of movement or a musician communicates the joy of song. His art transcends words and "acting" as we have come to know it. He is the embodiment of the early, joyous, mad, creative days of that great place that was Hollywood; a place the rest of the world suddenly wants to get to know. There is no better guide back to that wondrous world than one of its greatest creators. 

So, listen carefully: the universe is whispering "Douglas Fairbanks, Douglas Fairbanks...."


For an earlier post, "Douglas Fairbanks, the Greatest Romantic" click here.


Click here to read a letter from Doug's granddaughter, Melissa Fairbanks, to Jean Dujardin about his performance in "The Artist." Sweet.



17 comments:

Robin@DecoratingTennisGirl said...

No doubt he was playing a Fairbanks type persona. Loved the film and love Doug Fairbanks!

FlickChick said...

Hey Robin - Thanks! I am so glad to see Doug finally getting the recognition he deserves. He's been ignored for too long.

KimWilson said...

Nice to see a tribute to Fairbanks. I don't know how much I agree that there is more of a demand for silent films, though. I've listened recently to many people complain that The Artist won so many awards. "How can you win best actor when you don't speak in the film?" is what I hear most.

ClassicBecky said...

FlickChick, I couldn't agree more, especially with: "He is the embodiment of the early, joyous, mad, creative days of that great place that was Hollywood..." Perfect description of the great Fairbanks. Your pics are amazing, especially the one with Fairbanks and Jean in profile smiling! And that set for the 1922 version -- the crowd in front of the huge building is stupendous. Wonderful and entertaining post!

FlickChick said...

Thanks, Kim. I read that silent film rentals are up 40% since "The Artist" - so, while they will always have a narrow fan base, at least new people are trying them out.

FlickChick said...

Oh thank you so much, Becky. Doug has a special place in my heart, so I was doubly delighted by "The Artist."

ClassicBecky said...

Chick, I don't see any way to sign up to see when comments are made. It's not there anymore. I've seen this on several blogs. What happened? I liked that because I could see your response, what others were saying, and sometimes get into fun conversations.

FlickChick said...

Becky - I don't know - it looks totally different. They keep changing things!

ClassicBecky said...

What a pain! I wish they would leave things alone!

Andy said...

WOW!!! looks very nice...:)))

whistlingypsy said...

Marsha ~ a wonderful tribute to an actor who deserves to be better remembered (Chaplin would certainly have agreed). I can think of no higher praise than to quote your praise, “Douglas Fairbanks communicates his love of movies the way a dancer communicates the joy of movement or a musician communicates the joy of song. … There is no better guide back to that wondrous world than one of its greatest creators.” I absolutely agree, but if I have one source of pique, it is the failure to credit Fairbanks for his scenes from “The Mark Of Zorro” that appear in “The Artist” and to mention John Gilbert as a source of inspiration.

FlickChick said...

Andy - thanks so much and thanks for stopping by.

FlickChick said...

@ Gypsy: I agree that the character in "The Artist" had so many elements of John Gilbert, but at least getting Doug's name out there is a start. One forgotten star at a time....

Page said...

FlickChick,
I never saw the resemblance but wow that first photo is uncanny. Nice comparisons.

Doug is another great actor that we lost too soon. I can imagine what we missed by not having Doug continue acting after the talkies were in full swing.
He'll always be the 'original' swashbuckler to me and all who came after him an imitation including his son.

Have a nice weekend!
Page

FlickChick said...

Thank you, Page. The resemblance knocked me over from the moment I saw him, but I agree with Whistling Gypsy that there are also strong references to John Gilbert. it was great fun, but if it inspires just one person to check out the real thing (meaning Mr. Fairbanks, Sr.) that is a great thing. In these sort of depressing times, he is a ray of sunshine.

Douglas Fairbanks said...

Thank you very much for the kind words.

I'm always pleased to learn that filmgoers still enjoy my pictures.

Since they captured at least some my charm and grace, I can't get too angry at Jean Dujardin and Michel Hazanavicius. I'm just pleased that you caught them at their game!

Please keep up the good work with this journal.

And remember: Lon Chaney was a piker!

FlickChick said...

Hi Doug - I'm so glad you are still with us and happy that you liked the post! Thanks ever so much and say "hello" to Mary!