It's New Years Eve, of course, and as a special gift to the Brethren I’d like to share my very favorite sword fight from any pirate movie ever made. That’s right! The battle between Basil Rathbone as the evil (and you will note, French) Le Vasseur and Errol Flynn as our hero (British, of course), Stephen Blood in Captain Blood. I love this scene from the much lionized movie for many different reasons but for one in particular: Basil Rathbone.
Yeah, you were expecting me to say ol’ Errol, weren’t you? Don’t get me wrong; I love Mr. Flynn. Rathbone, though, was probably the greatest fencing movie actor of his or arguably any age. Unlike Flynn, who is all muscle and athletic prowess with very little of style mixed in, Rathbone is a study in technical precision. Every thrust and parry, even on those ridiculously dangerous wet rocks in Laguna Beach, is surgery perfect. He’s a vision of Dumas’ D’Artagnon come to life as a pirate villain.
I frequently fall into imagining this sequence as a romanticized retelling of the infamous duel between Laurens de Graff (Flynn) and Nicholas Van Horn (Rathbone) and I even imagine a similar exchange of words as they duke it out on the sand. In fact, Rathbone notoriously gave Flynn lip during the filming of another famous movie wherein they dueled to the death over Olivia de Havilland: The Adventures of Robin Hood. While filming that duel, Flynn chuckled that he “always got the girl.” Rathbone pulled up short, saluted Flynn and said – doubtless in that steely monotone that only Vincent Price could do better – “Yes you do, but I could actually kill you.” And given his fencing skills, and the obvious points in both duels where he backs off and allows Flynn to get the better of him, it is quite clear that Rathbone wasn’t bragging. Or lying.
Best wishes for a happy and safe New Years Eve, Brethren. Enjoy!
(Note: When I went to the YouTube video of the complete duel, embedding was disabled so here, as a poor substitute, is the short AMC doc on the staging of the duel. Pull the movie out tonight as part of your celebration and enjoy the duel in its entirety if your appetite has been wetted. You’ll be glad you did.)