Monday, March 14, 2011

The Films of Douglas Fairbanks: Introduction

Douglas Fairbanks

In the 1920's, Douglas Fairbanks was the biggest action star the world had ever known, but he got there in a round about sort of way. He started out in comedy, making simple “boy-meets-girl-but-then-something-gets-in-the-way-so-he-has-to-get-chased-all-over-town-and-perform-outlandish-stunts-before-he-can-marry-her” films, not unlike the Harold Lloyd thrill-seekers of the 1920's. Fairbanks’ comedies are all but forgotten today in favor of his better-known adventure films, but it was in comedy that he first established himself as one of the three most successful stars in Hollywood, along with Charlie Chaplin and Fairbanks’ own future wife, Mary Pickford. For several years, Fairbanks had become increasingly involved in the practical side of filmmaking, leading up to his co-founding of United Artists with Chaplin, Pickford, and director D.W. Griffith in 1919. When he made his first foray into serious action films with 1920’s The Mark of Zorro, Fairbanks was a well-established star of thirty-seven, and a full career reboot was the last thing anyone could have expected, particularly when this meant taking on projects of a scale and complexity that made them phenomenally more expensive than his earlier works. The Mark of Zorro was a hit, however, and Fairbanks never looked back. Over the next nine years he made a total of eight more costumed adventure films, cementing his reputation as cinema’s first (and arguably greatest) swashbuckler.

Fairbanks with Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford

Alas, all good things must come to an end, and so Fairbanks' reign over the silver screen died out with the introduction of sound. He made only a handful of talkies, none of them remarkable, before dying of a heart attack in 1939, at the age of 57.

Fairbanks on tour in 1917 selling war bonds to his adoring fans.

In this series we will be exploring the full range of Fairbanks' films, from his origins in cookie-cutter social comedy, to his legendary adventure films, to his brave but unsuccessful forays into the world of sound.

Fairbanks in Wild and Woolly, 1917
Fairbanks in The Thief of Bagdad, 1924
Fairbanks and Pickford on their honeymoon in 1920.
Fairbanks and Pickford being silly on set.
Fairbanks and Pickford at Pickfair, their estate in California.

No comments:

Post a Comment