The Sunday Intertitle
A MODERN MUSKETEER, directed by the redoubtable Allan Dwan and starring the insuperable Douglas Fairbanks, is the first Fairbanks I’ve seen that really delivers on the stuntwork with the kind of excess and largesse I’ve been hoping for. Although I’ve enjoyed the hell out of all the Fairbankses I’ve seen. THE MOLLYCODDLE has that great fight at the end, and a moment early on where Doug carries an unconscious thug under one arm — and his walk is not the walk of a man carrying a heavy thing, let a lone a man carrying a heavy thing on one side — he walks normally.
Yeah, I know, we’ve all THOUGHT about doing this, but Doug DOES IT.
This is key to the Fairbanks style: he does everything with apparent ease, and actual pleasure. Dwan reports that they’d build the sets just so, measured to Fairbanks’s physical capabilities. If he had to leap from one wall to another, the walls would be built far enough apart for DF to display his impressive leaping ability, but not so far that he had to strain. So everything he does is graceful and near-weightless.
Doug himself is, as ever, Captain Gusto, which A MODERN MUSKETEER exploits for comic effect — the movie almost acknowledges that a fellow like that might become a wee bit annoying if you knew him personally. Here he is, beating up ten thugs on a whim, or climbing a church steeple just to burn off a bit of excess enthusiasm. It’s a bit much.
Dwan contributes spectacular scenic spreads of the Grand Canyon and environs for the film’s climax — the best dramatic use of that landscape I’ve ever scene, with complex depth staging (tiny figures in extreme distance, big figures close up) and a dazzling array of surprising and spectacular compositions. It’s 1917 and yet the film seems completely modern in style, if not in attitude. (Fear of miscegenation forms one part of a plot strand, although Doug’s strenuous objection to the abduction of his sweetheart is fair enough, really. As in THE MOLLYCODDLE, there are sympathetic Indian characters, but the tone is a bit more condescending than one would ideally like.)
Apart from action-adventure setpieces, the picture is a positive goldmine of intertitles, with nearly every card boasting some snazzy bit of 92-year-old wit or attitude. And cheap jokes. “How,” says an American Indian. “Scrambled,” says Doug, after a slight pause.
And this last one, which I think is just mind-blowingly good, the intertitle that intertitles were invented for ~
Douglas Fairbanks: A Modern Musketeer (His Picture in the Papers / The Mystery of the Leaping Fish / Flirting With Fate / The Matrimaniac / Wild and Woolly … Mollycoddle / The Mark of Zorro / The Nut)