Cyrano de Bergerac in his many incarnations — my favorite being the portrayal by Peter Donat — so beautifully tragic, that at one time I’d memorized Cyrano’s improvised dueling poem,…
Blade-wielding heroes as portrayed by both Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power, in many of their films. In The Great Race it was Ross Martin versus Tony Curtis who performs a textbook balestra.
Stewart Granger versus Mel Ferrer, in Scaramouche — just about the best swordplay ever in an English-language film. Plus, it has masks:
In an interview, Mel stated that he and Stewart did all the stunts themselves, and the points and edges of the blades were real. Risky with stars, but bloody impressive. Even more impressive, Mel’s not a fencer, he’s a dancer — he commited the fight choreography to memory as dance steps. And I love that there’s no music track to distract from the action.
Continuing the list with The Three Musketeers — the Oliver Reed version first, the Gene Kelly version second; The Princess Bride; and, of course, the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy; The Pirates of Penzance — Kevin Kline made a comically terrific Pirate King,…
… and let us not forget The Scarlet Pumpernickel!
I have the full set of toys, ‘action figures’, of the cast of Warner Brothers’ The Scarlet Pumpernickel in the room where I do most of my writing and meditation.
Yeah-hhh, I’m pretty sure it was the inspiration for Disney’s “Darkwing Duck.”
And there were so many other cartoons: Touché Turtle, Super Chicken, Yippy-Yappy-and-Yahooey, a bit with Tom ‘n’ Jerry, and so forth and so on, that I watched only because of the swordplay.
As a kid then and as an adult now, I still can’t get enough of the stuff, though I’m much more discerning now. There’s something about the conversation between the blades and the ringing of the bell guards, and the cries of “Et la’!!” that gets my blood moving.
For me, Olympic style fencing isn’t as much fun to watch as a well-choreographed swordfight.
By that, I mean a swordfight where you can’t tell the combatants are only going for the blades instead of their opponents’ vitals. From this spectator’s perspective, Olympic style fencing has evolved into a high-speed version of “gotcha! gotcha last!”, most likely the reason that it’s so rarely televised. The bladework between Olympic fencers is so fast that you can’t read the action unless you’re a seasoned fencer yourself.
And I simply prefer Classical fencing to Olympic. Again, it’s something about the discipline of the art, and the art of the discipline — it sings to me.
Of all the fantasy adventure fiction I’ve ever read, nobody could write a swordfight like Fritz Leiber, who himself was a fencer — it showed clearly in his writing. The immortal Edgar Rice Burroughs never even came close to what Fritz could write for swordplay. In a swordfight between John Carter of Mars and Fafhrd, I’ll put my money on the Tall Northerner every time.
It’s gotta be European style bladework and footwork for me. I just never could get into the kendo style that the Star Wars lightsabre combat is based upon. My own training has me cringing whenever I see a combatant pirouette and expose his indefensible back to his opponent. Besides, I never could get out of the habit of keeping my point in line.
This bout is startlingly brief, so don’t blink or you’ll miss the touch:
Feint, disengage, remise — tzing! Gotcha last.
There’s also the swordsman that Bob Kane freely admitted was his inspiration for the Batman, El Zorro. Ah-hhh, Zorro, another legendary swordsman of many incarnations. Here’s the extremely dashing Tyrone Power fencing against Basil Rathbone in the 1940 The Mark of Zorro:
My personal favorite Zorro? Forgive me, gentlemen, but it’s Zorro, the Gay Blade. George Hamilton’s swishbuckler is a delightful bit of camp: “Two bits! Four bits! Six bits, a peso! Everyone for Zorro, stand up and say so!!”
In the more recent The Mark of Zorro with Anthony Hopkins and Antonio Banderas, when Catherine Zeta-Jones brought up her weapon — I couldn’t help it. I began laughing aloud in the theater. I blame my lapse of self-control on Ms. Zeta-Jones’s footwork — whoever coached her really-really should’ve tried harder.
Sad but true — being a fencer can spoil a movie for you in a hurry. You can’t just keep from spotting the screw-ups, and it can throw you out of the story.
One of the absolute best fencing films I’ve ever seen is By the Sword, with F.Murray Abraham and Eric Roberts. Damn. Some seriously good moves in this one, and the story is worthwhile, too. Another great flick is The Duellists, with Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine — only their first duel is with blades, but again, a good story.
What about Mensur? Oh, no. Just no. That’s for another post, if at all.
Danny Kaye versus Basil Rathbone, in The Court Jester:
Basil Rathbone was such a master that he could make any sparring partner, no matter how raw, look good. Next, I’m hoping to get my hands on a DVD of Reclaiming the Blade really soon. Wish me bonne chance!