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Silent Era Home Page  >  Home Video  >  The Black Pirate
 
Silent Era Films on Home Video
Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2014 by Carl Bennett
and the Silent Era Company.
All Rights Reserved.
The
Black Pirate

(1926)
 

Douglas Fairbanks wanted to make the ultimate pirate picture. He also wanted a story that would give audiences more of the swashbuckling hero they had come to expect. The Black Pirate (1926) does not disappoint. As in Robin Hood (1922), Sam de Grasse makes an excellent villain. Future Academy Award winner Donald Crisp portrays a highly unusual Scottish pirate, sympathetic to Fairbanks. Billie Dove plays another of Fairbanks’ frail and swooning love interests.

A marauding group of pirates terrorize the seas, sinking the ship Fairbanks and his father are travelling on. Washed ashore — the only survivors — Fairbanks’ father succombs to death. Doug swears vengeance upon the pirates responsible, who have conveniently come ashore to bury their loot. Fairbanks convinces the pirates to allow him to join their lot, despite the suspicions of de Grasse. Doug convinces the entire band of pirates of his value as a leader when, on a wager, he single-handedly captures their next ship of prey. Fairbanks then calculates an elaborate plan to capture the pirates, while maintaining Billie Dove’s virtue on a ship of horny lechers. High action, great stunts and a few comic moments follow. The film is on a high par with the other great Fairbanks films of the 1920s.

Fairbanks was breaking ground in a modest way when he decided to produce The Black Pirate entirely in Technicolor. A small number of previous feature films had already been produced in the relatively new color process, but his was the first major feature film produced in Technicolor. The process was expensive and technical refinements were still being made as production problems were encountered. Hedging his bet on the color process, Fairbanks also prudently shot the film in black & white. If his Technicolor experiment became a disaster, a traditional tinted black & white version could be released and the movie-going public would be none the wiser. Thus two complete versions of The Black Pirate have survived. (A third version of the film was created when a narrated sound film rerelease of the black & white version was released decades later.)

The Technicolor process required vast amounts of light on the sets and actors to pass their images through a special camera lens prism and color filters and still register on the negative filmstock. Meanwhile black & white cameras (with their light-admitting apertures adjusted for the brighter-than-usual light levels) ground side-by-side with the Technicolor camera to capture the same performances on the domestic negative and, in another camera, the export negative. The differences between the two surviving versions are minor, mostly in slight camera angle differences, but the final edited continuity is virtually the same.

To inexperienced eyes, early Technicolor is difficult to distinguish from the colorized films that plagued the home video market some 20 to 25 years ago. The impression should not be given that one may expect the rich Technicolor of Gone with the Wind or The Wizard of Oz. Early Technicolor utilized orangey-red and bluish-green dyes to obtain a fairly accurate flesh tone (the first objective of the color process). This left many colors inadequately or completely unregistered. The results made red and green easy to capture on film, hence the unusual amount of the two colors in the cast’s wardrobe and on the settings. The Black Pirate appears at times to be little more than a murky brownish color. Only in the early 1930s was the final component (yellow) successfully integrated into the process. — Carl Bennett

2010 Kino International Blu-ray Disc edition

The Black Pirate (1926) [Technicolor version], color, 95 minutes, not rated,
and The Black Pirate (1926) [black & white rerelease version], black & white, 75 minutes, not rated.

Kino International, K721, UPC 7-38929-07212-4.
Pillarboxed 16:9 MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, one single-sided Blu-ray Disc, Region 0, LPCM 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 10 chapter stops, standard BD keepcase in cardboard slipcover, $34.95.
BD release date: 14 December 2010.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 9 / audio: 8 / additional content: 7 / overall: 8.

Kino International’s Blu-ray Disc edition of The Black Pirate features a new 1080p high-definition video transfer of the restored 35mm two-strip Technicolor version of the film.

From the beginning of the Technicolor footage, one is struck by the visual improvements in this high-definition edition. The increased resolution allows viewers to clearly see that the pirate captain is sporting a chest tattoo of a hand holding a weighing scale, and long diagonals of rope cutting through the frame no longer create rainbows of color noise as they move about with the rocking of the ship. The new video transfer sacrifices deep blacks (black blacks in video monitors is an overrated technical specification in today’s television systems) in the picture for the sake of pulling out image details in the shadows. The results are admirable and satisfying, as one can now clearly see Charles Stevens moving around the captured ship’s powder magazine preparing to blow it up, or clearly identify Sam de Grasse and Donald Crisp in broadside long shots. Kino’s previous DVD editions lost image details in dark, plugged-up shadows and indistinct lower-resolution transfer images.

The color saturation in the new video transfer is slightly paler than in Kino’s previous DVD editions, making this film in the early Technicolor process look a little more pastel here than in our memories of a film that has always looked more pale and pinkish than other Technicolor films of the time.

One black & white shot, at 23:35, appears to have been inserted from the black & white version of the film.

The film is presented with the Robert Israel arranged and conducted version of the original Mortimer Wilson music score that was originally recorded for Kino’s 1996 laserdisc and VHS editions, now presented here in clearer audio fidelity. An optional theater pipe organ music score performed by Lee Erwin is also available (likely originally recorded in the 1970s) — a fitting testament to the late Erwin’s high reputation as a musical performer.

An alternate version of the film is presented in its sound version rerelease, with a synchronized orchestral music score and effects soundtrack. Also transferred in high-definition, this version removed the intertitles (most of them, not all) from the black & white version of the film, relying on narration by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (really? — it doesn’t sound like him) for exposition and dialogue.

The new Kino edition retains the supplemental content of their previous DVD editions: a full-length audio commentary by Rudy Behlmer, a section of production outtakes (transferred in standard resolution) and stills, narrated by Rudy Behlmer, takes a behind-the-scenes look at the production of The Black Pirate (18 minutes), and an additional section of outtakes (transferred in standard resolution) from the Library of Congress without commentary (29 minutes). Several of the stunts and special effects are seen in their rejected form, giving the viewer an insight into the technical production problems that had to be overcome.

The substantial and thrilling improvement in visual quality in this high-definition edition of The Black Pirate makes it worth investing in a Blu-ray Disc player and an HD monitor for those collectors who have been holding out, just waiting for a good reason. This edition is highly recommended as the best home video edition of The Black Pirate.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region-Free Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region-Free Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region-Free Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
2004 Kino on Video DVD edition

The Black Pirate (1926) [Technicolor version], color, 94 minutes, not rated.

Kino International, K330, UPC 7-38329-03302-6.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered? DVD disc, Region 1, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $29.95.
DVD release date: 3 February 2004.
Country of origin: USA
Kino International has rereleased their edition of The Black Pirate.

We suspect that this new disc is largely the same in content as the 1999 edition below, with likely remastering that could result in a higher video bit rate and slightly better picture.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
1999 Kino on Video DVD edition

The Black Pirate (1926) [Technicolor version], color, 94 minutes, not rated.

Kino International, K112DVD, UPC 7-38329-01122-2.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 4.5 Mbps average video bit rate, 224 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 18 chapter stops, snapper DVD case, $24.99.
DVD release date: 13 August 1999.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 7 / audio: 8 / additional content: 7 / overall: 7.

Over the past 20 years, we have been excited by the release of any silent era Technicolor footage. Home video editions of silent films began appearing with original Technicolor sections intact. The home video edition of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925) was glorious. The videocassette edition of The Wedding March (1928) became a treasured find. The 1990 laserdisc version of The Phantom of the Opera (1925) was a revelation, as was the DVD edition of The Toll of the Sea (1922). Buster Keaton’s Seven Chances (1925) featured rough Technicolor footage. But, there was little hope of much else. Lillian Gish’s Annie Laurie (1927) had been found and restored with the Technicolor sequences intact, but there would be no news of the film coming to home video. Early Technicolor fans had to be satisfied with occasional American Movie Classics showings of the early talkies The King of Jazz (1930) and Whoopee (1930).

There seemed to be little hope that early Technicolor features such as Wanderer of the Wasteland (1924), The Water Hole (1928) or The Black Pirate (1926) would be released on home video. A small videotape distributor released an awful, washed-out edition of the Technicolor Black Pirate, which gave little impression of the film’s previous glory. A quality home video edition would surface in the form of the Republic Pictures Home Video color-tinted laserdisc of the black & white version of the film. Still, hope remained that a high-quality edition of the color version would someday be produced. In 1996 the Kino International Technicolor edition, produced for home video by David Shepard, premiered on laserdisc and VHS videotape.

This DVD presentation of The Black Pirate appears to have been assembled from as many as three different source materials. All appear to be in excellent condition, as there is no jarring contrast between the quality of one print and another. (An intriguing question is: Have the original Technicolor negatives to The Black Pirate survived? If so, new IB Technicolor prints could be struck that would give us the colors of the original prints.) Very little speckling is evident in the prints utilized for the video transfer, and there are very few Technicolor green or red print defects. Picture detail is very-good to excellent and the framing is always generous.

There were still problems with the Technicolor process. We assume some of those problems are evident in the finished Black Pirate. Early in the film, exteriors are washed-out to an unsaturated and grayish (almost black & white) color. Some interiors are hard to pick picture details out of the deep shadows. But we nitpick. Overall, this video edition on DVD looks better than any other presentation of The Black Pirate we have ever seen, including a live presentation from a 35mm film print. Colors still look a little pale compared to Ben-Hur or The Phantom of the Opera (or even The King of Jazz), but, we like to simply boost our television’s color saturation a modest 5 percent to reach a pleasing color level. In our reevaluation of this disc on high-definition equipment, upscaling the standard NTSC signal to full HD, the picture looks good and so we stand by our original grading, but a new HD transfer and rerelease on Blu-ray Disc and DVD would do justice to the source print.

We are, once again, very pleased with the work of Robert Israel, who has conducted a small orchestra performing the original 1926 music score composed by Mortimer Wilson. The soundtrack in digital stereo is well recorded and always a wonderful accompaniment to this entertaining film.

A supplementary section of production outtakes and stills, narrated by Rudy Behlmer, takes a behind-the-scenes look at the production of The Black Pirate. Several of the stunts and special effects are seen in their rejected form, giving the viewer an insight into the technical problems that had to be overcome.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2005 Delta Entertainment DVD edition

The Black Pirate (1926) [black & white version], black & white, 82 minutes, not rated.

Delta Entertainment, 82 346, UPC 0-18111-23469-6.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 17 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $6.99.
DVD release date: 29 November 2005.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 5 / audio: 5 / additional content: 0 / overall: 5.

This budget edition has been mastered from a good 16mm reduction print of the black & white version of the film, and is presented here without the color-tones of the Navarre edition noted below.

The image detail is only good, with often contrasty graytones plugging up the shadows and blasting out highlights.

The film is accompanied by a cobbled-together orchestral music score that is not synchronized to the film’s action and only occasionally seems appropriate to the scene being viewed.

While not ideal, this Delta edition and the Navarre edition below provide a collector an OK record of the black & white version of the film.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2002 Navarre Corporation DVD edition

Triple Feature Drama Classics, Volume 2 (1926-1934), black & white and color toned black & white, 253 minutes total, not rated,
including The Black Pirate (1926) [black & white version], color-toned black & white, 83 minutes, not rated.

Navarre Corporation, 1624, UPC 7-41027-16249-3.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 1, 3 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 12 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $9.98.
DVD release date: 12 March 2002.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 5 / audio: 5 / additional content: 5 / overall: 5.

The video transfer appears to be the same as has previously appeared on Republic Pictures Home Video laserdisc and videotape editions of The Black Pirate. That transfer, from a 35mm preservation print in the Paul Killiam collection of the black & white version of the film, is identical to the one on this DVD (both of them cropped identically and running at the same speed), with the exception that the color tones of the two transfers are different. The qualities of the two transfers are also identical, being slightly contrasty, soft of image detail and some exposure fluctuations. With the oversaturation of the color toning on all of the Republic Pictures silent film releases on home video, this new DVD edition is more pleasant viewing despite the relatively low DVD video bit rate of 3Mb per second and the slightly more burnt-out highlights.

The musical accompaniment on the DVD is a generic orchestral score cobbled together from existing recordings rather than the mono piano score by William Perry that was released with the Killiam preservation print.

While it is not the best example of DVD production, this edition is an OK record of the black & white version of The Black Pirate.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2006 TeleVista DVD edition

The Black Pirate (1926) [black & white version], color-toned black & white, 83 minutes, not rated.

TeleVista, unknown catalog number, UPC 0-18619-31913-0.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered? DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $9.95.
DVD release date: 19 December 2006.
Country of origin: USA
Information on this edition is unreliable.

We suspect, given what information is available and from the price attached to this edition, that it has been mastered from a color-toned 16mm reduction print of the black & white version of The Black Pirate.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2006 Passport Video DVD edition

Pirates of the Silver Screen Collection (1926-1960), black & white and color, ? minutes total, not rated,
including The Black Pirate (1926), black & white?, ? minutes, not rated.

Passport Video, DVD-5860, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, five single-sided?, single-layered? DVD discs, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, five-disc DVD keepcase, $19.98.
DVD release date: 23 May 2006.
Country of origin: USA
This budget edition is likely mastered from a 16mm reduction print of The Black Pirate. It is unknown whether the Technicolor or black & white version is presented. The set is filled out with other pirate feature films, television episodes and short films for an approximately 700-minute boxset running time.

Passport Video productions usually maintain a nonremoveable logomark in the lower right-hand corner of the picture throughout the film’s presentation.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2006 Mill Creek Entertainment DVD edition

The Ultimate Pirate Collection (1926-1975), black & white and color, ? minutes total, not rated,
including The Black Pirate (1926), black & white?, ? minutes, not rated.

Mill Creek Entertainment, no catalog number, UPC 6-83904-20014-3.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, four double-sided?, single-layered? DVD discs, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, four-disc DVD keepcase, $14.98.
DVD release date: 27 June 2006.
Country of origin: USA
This budget edition is likely mastered from a 16mm reduction print of The Black Pirate. It is unknown whether the Technicolor or black & white version is presented.

The set is filled out with 27 other films and television episodes for a 1099-minute boxset running time.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Other silent era DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS films available on home video.

Other TECHNICOLOR FILMS of the silent era available on home video.

Douglas Fairbanks filmography in The Progressive Silent Film List
 
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