I apologize to faithful readers of this blog (all five of you), for not updating this of late. Thanks to a plethora of summertime activities, I did not go see any movies this past weekend and hardly watched any at home.
However, I did watch one movie, a silent movie called “Don Q, Son of Zorro” (1925) starring one of the decade’s biggest stars, Douglas Fairbanks.
A sequel to his enormously successful “The Mark of Zorro” (1920) – yes, they even had sequels in the 1920s – stars Fairbanks in the title role, who is framed for murder and must clear his name. Of course the villain (Donald Crisp, who also directed) must compete with Don Q for the same woman (Mary Astor, 16 years before her celebrated turn as Brigid O’Shaughnessey in the immortal “The Maltese Falcon”).
With the help of Pa Zorro (also played by Fairbanks), all rights are wronged and Fairbanks and Astor share a romantic clinch at the end. The climax is very exciting as father and son duel their way through the ruins of the family estate. An expert swordsman, Don Q also wields a whip in ways that would make Indiana Jones turn green with envy.
The film is a lot of fun and well worth watching but there was one scene that had me gasping in amazement.
Fairbanks as Don Q is sitting in a chair near a fire. He puts a cigarette in his mouth, and in one fluid motion, flicks his whip towards the fire so the end of it catches fire, snaps it up to light his cigarette and with a quick flip of his wrist extinguishes the flame at the end of his whip. Simply amazing.
At first I thought it was trick photography. After all, the climax of the movie shows the two Zorros fighting side by side, and Fairbanks’s movie the previous year was the monumental, special effects heavy “The Thief of Baghdad”, so he was not adverse to using the latest in special effects techniques.
But I stopped the film several times and re-ran it back and forth, even in slow motion, and it looks real to me and not an illusion. In real life Fairbanks was an acrobat so its very possible he taught himself this cigarette lighting trick.
There’s also a leap into a carriage that has to be seen to be believed. The camera is far enough away so we can see there’s no trampoline device of any kind on the ground. He faces the carriage, leaps into it, twists his body so he lands facing forward into the carriage before driving off. Again, simply amazing.
It’s no wonder Fairbanks was the idol of millions worldwide in the 1920s.