After the ship he’s on is taken over and destroyed by a band of pirates, the Duke of Anoldo (Douglas Fairbanks) and his father survive and make their way to a deserted island. The Duke’s father dies shortly afterward and he vows to avenge his father’s death by getting revenge on the pirates. When the pirates also arrive on the island to hide the treasure they’ve found, the Duke decides the best way to get revenge is to become the Black Pirate and try to beat the pirates at their own game by joining their band. First he proves his worthy by demonstrating his skills with a sword, then takes over a ship on his own.
When the pirates get on the ship, they realize a Princess (Billie Dove) is on board and the Black Pirate urges them to hold her hostage so they can get a ransom. Of course, to get a ransom, the Princess has to remain safe so the Black Pirate tries to protect her from some of the other pirates who are trying to sabotage his efforts. When the Black Pirate finds out their lives are in danger, he tries to get himself and the Princess out of harm’s way, but other pirates believe he is trying to escape and force him to walk the plank. But it’s hardly the end for the Black Pirate!
The Black Pirate is the kind of movie that makes me wish I had a time machine so I could travel back in time and seen in theaters when it was first released in. I can imagine the audience reactions would have been absolutely off the charts, between the thrilling action sequences and that glorious two-strip technicolor. Even nearly 90 years after its original release, Douglas Fairbanks’s stunt work is still nothing less than a true marvel to behold. Fairbanks’s performance wasn’t “good for its time,” it’s still a real tour de force. If Fairbanks were alive and working in today’s film industry, there’s no doubt in my mind that he’d still be the go-to star for all the top action blockbusters.
Blondie (Marion Davies) and Lottie (Billie Dove) are longtime friends. Their families live in the same tenement building in the working class part of town, but Lottie longs to become a big star and find a better life for herself. Eventually she leaves her old life behind her to move to Park Avenue and become a star in the Follies. When she comes back to visit on Mother’s Day, Lottie (who now goes by the name Lurline Cavanaugh) brings Blondie back with her so she can see her swanky new apartment.
What Lottie doesn’t expect is for Blondie to catch the eye of Larry Belmont (Robert Montgomery), who she’s been pursuing. Since Lottie will be performing in the Follies that night, Larry offers to take Blondie so she’ll have a chance to see Lottie at work. Not only does Blondie have a swell night with Larry, spending all night with him at a speakeasy after the show, he even gets her a job as a chorus girl, which makes Lottie extremely jealous.
Blondie’s father doesn’t approve of her going into showbiz, but she does it anyway and becomes a big hit in the show. But after finding out how much Larry means to Lottie, she promises to leave him alone. But Larry still loves Blondie and doesn’t like that Lottie’s been exposing Blondie to that kind of lifestyle (never mind the fact that he’s the one who got her the job in the chorus.) It all ends with Lottie and Blondie getting into a big fight. After a few months have passed, Blondie tries to patch things up between Lottie and Larry again, to no avail. Although she and Lottie are able to mend their fences, Larry still loves Blondie, which continues to strain their relationship.
Mention Marion Davies and many people will think of Susan Alexander, Charles Foster Kane’s talentless wife in Citizen Kane. Since Citizen Kane was such a thinly-veiled stab at William Randolph Hearst, the character of Susan Alexander is often assumed to represent Marion Davies. But Marion Davies is no Susan Alexander and Blondie of the Follies is proof of that. This was easily one of my favorite talkies Marion did. Movies about love triangles were nothing new and movies about showgirls were nothing new, even in 1932. But Blondie of the Follies manages to not feel trite or done before. Davies and Billie Dove were both fantastic in it. Blondie of the Follies was the last film Billie Dove made because she was frustrated with Hearst’s meddling to make Marion out to be the star of the film. I’d love to see some of Billie’s cut scenes because she’s so great in the scenes that made it in, the scenes Hearst felt were “too good” must have been pretty phenomenal.
If nothing else, Blondie of the Follies is worth watching just for the brief scene where Marion Davies and Jimmy Durante do impressions of Barrymore and Garbo in Grand Hotel. Marion was well known for doing impressions at parties of other big movie stars, something we also see her do in The Patsy. But seeing her impersonate Garbo along with Jimmy Durante is pure gold.