C: Since we’ve been very focused on TV around here lately, I’ve had a request to talk more about movies – specifically, to recommend some more classic movies everybody should see. If you’re looking to buckle up some swash, here are some of the most thrilling adventure stories ever to grace the silver screen:
Captain Blood (1935) is the original swashbuckling pirate classic. Disney may have based their Pirates of the Caribbean films on the Disneyland ride, but it’s plain to see the ride was inspired by Captain Blood, an early success from director Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, White Christmas) based on a novel by Rafael Sabatini (M: author of Scaramouche, a novel I inherited Quibbling Dad’s love for). Errol Flynn, in his first major role, stars as a dashing Irish doctor who, for saving a rebel’s life, gets convicted of treason and sold into Caribbean slavery. Clearly, piracy is his only option! With luminous Olivia de Havilland to flirt with and Quibbling Family favorite Basil Rathbone to fence with, Flynn flaunts his legendary derring-do and charm from Port Royal to Tortuga.
The Prisoner of Zenda (1937) is a movie few have heard of today, but a highly enjoyable classic. Ronald Coleman stars as Rudolf Rassendyll, a British man vacationing in the fictional kingdom of Ruritania, where his distant cousin the king (who happens to look just like him) has been the victim of a treasonous plot. Naturally, sword-fights and counter-plots ensue! There’s a great supporting cast, including C. Aubrey Smith, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and a surprisingly cute young David Niven. Will Rudolf save his cousin? Or will falling in love with the beautiful Princess Flavia (Madeleine Carroll) tempt him to usurp the king’s place? Fun fact: though I’ve never seen this acknowledged, it’s obvious that the great 1993 Kevin Kline film Dave is a modernization of Zenda (M: As is the equally tricksy 1988 Richard Dreyfus film Moon Over Parador).
The Four Feathers (1939) is another fine film of the “regular young man called on to be a hero” variety. Our hero Harry Faversham (John Clements) would rather live a happy life in England than subdue the people of Africa in Queen Victoria’s name. But when his three best friends and his fiancee (June Duprez) give him white feathers representing cowardice, what’s he to do? Run off to Sudan as a badass spy, of course. There are some troubling racial stereotypes in this film, but the cinematography of Africa and Zoltan Korda’s epic direction are legendary – stick with it through the slow and awkward bits and you’ll find this sweeping tale of bravery and romance rewarding. (M: Much more so than the 2002 Heath Ledger remake, though Djimon Hounsou’s excellent supporting performance is at least worth watching.)
Ivanhoe (1952) defines the chivalric romance genre, with Richard the Lionheart and Robin of Locksley showing up to support Sir Wilfred of Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor), who despite his soppy name is a knight renowned in battle and tourney alike. He’s also a Saxon, which is why his father disinherited him for following Norman King Richard to the Holy Land (more suppressing the natives, yeesh!) and won’t let him see his lady-love Rowena (Joan Fontaine). Ivanhoe must do all manner of dashing things to defeat Prince John and rescue his Jewish patron’s daughter Rebecca (Elizabeth Taylor at her prettiest) from persecution. Knights, castles, jousts, sieges, romance, and comic relief - this is absolute classic. (Oh, and parents: kids like it too.)
Ben Hur (1959) is the most intense of all these films, blending adventure with drama on an epic scale. The magnificently manly Charlton Heston plays a wealthy Jewish man in the time of Christ, who’s betrayed by a friend and, like Captain Blood, wrongfully enslaved. (Not that enslavement can be rightful…). The galley scenes are unforgettable (“RAMMING SPEED!”), as of course is the iconic chariot race, but this film – from legendary director William Wyler (Roman Holiday) – also offers a moving personal story of a man who must overcome his poisonous desire for vengeance. And I always liked the touch of romance. More people know of this film than have actually seen it, maybe because of the 3.5 hour runtime. But this is one to make a point of watching.
Looking for more of the best films of all time? Check out our previous posts: 10 Black & White Classic Films Everyone Should See and 5 Classic Crime Thrillers That Satisfy.