Review: Henry King’s “The Black Swan,” Starring Tyrone Power and Maureen O’Hara

Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara in
Tyrone Power and Maureen O'Hara in "The Black Swan"

At the end of 1942 Fox sent star Tyrone Power out on the high seas, for a Technicolor swashbuckler reminiscent of Errol Flynn’s hit Warner Brothers adventures from the thirties. Based on a novel by Rafael Sabatini (the author behind Flynn’s Captain Blood), The Black Swan casts Power as the brash and often shirtless pirate Jamie Waring. When Waring’s old friend Henry Morgan (Laird Cregar) gives up the pirate life for an appointment as the Governor of Jamaica, Waring and his pal Tom Blue (Thomas Mitchell) reform along with him. Not on board is Billy Leech (George Sanders), who decides to stick with the pirate life and pillage Jamaican ships for treasure. The Jamaican people are convinced that Morgan is in league with Leech, so Waring is sent off off to protect the ships and prove they truly are reformed. Along the way, Waring kidnaps the former governor’s fiancee (Maureen O’Hara), pushing her into a romance in an especially rapey way. “I’m trying my hardest to be a gentleman,” he threatens during their second meet-cute, but she continues to resist him. By the end she changes her mind, but it’s thoroughly unconvincing—entirely the fault of writers Ben Hecht and Seton I. Miller, not O’Hara, who brings all the charm she can to the thankless part. There’s a better movie in here that skips the romance, and maybe even cuts Power entirely. After all, the supporting cast is full of first-rate character actors, albeit plastered with goofy facial hair and wigs. Cregar as Morgan in particular is a hoot, waltzing around calling everyone a “popinjay,” while Sanders is properly detestable as Leech. But throughout, Waring’s attempts to seduce this abducted woman frustratingly takes center stage over the far more interesting feud between Morgan and Leech. While the film looks great—with Oscar-nominated special effects and Leon Shamroy’s Oscar-winning Technicolor cinematography—aside from a reasonably thrilling climactic sea battle, the drama of The Black Swan never comes out in a remotely compelling way.

Where to Watch

Buy it on Blu-ray / DVD

Rent it on iTunes / Amazon

For More on The Black Swan

Read the review in The New York Times

Read the review in Variety

Watch the Trailer