Swashbuckling pirate tales were all the rage in Hollywood during its Golden Age and there is no better example of the genre than The Black Swan. Tyrone Power, at the height of his stardom, plays the dashing Captain Jamie Waring, a reformed pirate trying to go straight in Jamaica when he falls in love with Lady Margaret Denby (Maureen O’Hara). The lavish Technicolor film was a splashy adventure pic for 1942 that combined romance with more traditional pirate action. A classic pirate tale full of sword-fighting and battles on the high seas, fans of classic Hollywood will find much to love about The Black Swan.
Former pirate Captain Henry Morgan (Laird Cregar) is named the governor of Jamaica in 1674 and announces the age of the pirate is over in the Caribbean at the behest of England. Having reformed from a life of piracy, Morgan brings his close associate Captain Jamie Waring along with him to the Governor’s mansion. Waring is the real hero of this story, an impulsive and swashbuckling star made to save the day and get the girl. Some pirates refuse to give up their efforts in villainy and begin to work against Captain Morgan’s new government, including an outspoken Captain Leech (George Sanders).
Waring is rough around the edges from having lived as a pirate for so long but becomes smitten with Lady Margaret Denby, engaged to an English aristocrat named Roger Ingram. She is cool to the former pirate’s many romantic advances but it is made clear she is not really in love with Roger Ingram. Meanwhile, Ingram is plotting to remove Morgan from his newly-appointed role as governor and also working together with a rebel group of pirates led by Captain Leech. Waring comes up with a daring plan to kidnap Lady Margaret, and both win her love and prevent Ingram’s plans from unfolding at the same time.
The plot of The Black Swan is fairly predictable. Luckily the fiery chemistry between Power and O’Hara pave over rougher bumps in the road. Tyrone Power is the archetypal star of this genre and an early predecessor to current stars such as Johnny Depp, a romantic rogue with a heart of gold and wit to spare. Maureen O’Hara is dazzling as the feisty leading lady, though the nature of her romantic arc will have modern audiences unaccustomed to tropes of the era cringing from shock. An epitome of Hollywood’s Golden Age, The Black Swan is a timeless adventure.
The Black Swan was a three-strip Technicolor production and a first-rate example of Hollywood’s capabilities in 1942. Leon Shamroy won the Oscar for his colorful cinematography and Fox has preserved that fairly well in this Hi-Def transfer. Running 84 minutes, the main feature has been encoded in AVC at the stellar video bitrate of 37.97 Mbps and presented at its native aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The surviving film elements remain in presentable shape and received an extensive restoration in 2006.
Fox’s transfer is largely filmic, preserving The Black Swan’s Technicolor cinematography as best they could with questionable extant elements. The transfer has hints of ringing and color fringing, though it is always tough to determine how much of that is due to additional processing or the original photography. The video encode is flawless, replicating the native grain structure without fault. There isn’t a single compression artifact marring the film print.
The picture quality itself is somewhat variable, going from brightly-lit exteriors to murky shadows. Focus and clarity waver at times but its action scenes are surprisingly crisp with sharp detail. The Black Swan was filmed using a number of specialized lighting tricks for mood and color. The exaggerated color palette creates uneven flesh-tones as the actors are all caked in special make-up.
Modern color grading has a tendency to disrespect past creative choices but I don’t think The Black Swan has fallen prey to that trend. Its color saturation looks a little strange compared with today’s films but nothing in it screams obvious modern tinkering. There is no consistent teal push to this transfer.
Alfred Newman’s Oscar-nominated score sounds perfectly fine in the provided 1.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. That mono sound gets the job done with clean dialogue and dated fidelity. The mix is limited in terms of impact and punch, hindered by mild surface noise. The musical score has its moments despite the thin, tinny sound. The Black Swan sounds typical of its era in terms of effects.
Fox has provided a Spanish dub in mono DD at 192 kbps and a French dub in mono DD. Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles appear in a white font. The backcover lists French subs but they are missing on the BD.
There is only one significant extra feature but it is a very interesting one, featuring star Maureen O’Hara. Brought over from the older DVD release, O’Hara shares her insight and anecdotes from the film while being guided by Rudy Behlmer’s excellent analysis. It is great to hear the film’s star vividly recall details like they just happened yesterday.
Commentary By Rudy Behlmer and Maureen O’Hara
Theatrical Trailer (02:02 in SD)
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