My Favorite Swashbucklers

Quite some time ago I was asked to put together one of these little collections for epics. Maybe I’ll tackle that later but in this post, I’ll tell you what my favorite movie swashbucklers are.

First, let’s define our terms. For me the “swashbuckler” genre consists of movies with the following characteristics:

  • Costume drama
  • Action
  • Features swordplay
  • Set between about the Middle Ages to roughly 1850 in Europe or the Americas.

Additionally, swashbucklers frequently have a strong humorous component although that isn’t required.

Consequently, Seven Samurai isn’t a swashbuckler because of its setting. The Magnificent Seven isn’t a swashbuckler because it doesn’t include swordplay. Mutiny on the Bounty is an adventure (maybe even an epic) but not a swashbuckler.

Here are my favorites. Following my custom I only include one picture each with the same leading actor.

The Black Pirate (1926)

No list of swashbucklers would be complete without a Douglas Fairbanks movie.

The Count of Monte Cristo (1934)

IMO this is the best movie version of the Dumas novel although the Jim Caviezel/Guy Pearce version is probably truer to the source material. What can I say? Robert Donat is probably my favorite actor.

The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934)

Leslie Howard and the incomparable Merle Oberon make for very appealing leads in this best version of the novel.

The Prisoner of Zenda (1937)

As a kid I fell in love with Madeleine Carroll as Princess Flavia in this movie. What a cast! Ronald Coleman, Madeleine Carroll, Raymond Massey, Mary Astor, C. Aubrey Smith (the greatest profile in show business), David Niven but Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. stole the show as the roguish Rupert of Hentzau.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Picking just a single Errol Flynn movie is a severe handicap. IMO this is his best all-’round movie but in honesty you could populate a list of best swashbucklers containing only the movies of Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn.

The Black Swan (1942)

It was hard deciding on which of Tyrone Powers’s swashbucklers to include in this list. I picked this over the excellent The Mark of Zorro because I didn’t want to have a list consisting entirely of Zorro movies.

The Spanish Main (1945)

You might not think of him as an action hero but Paul Henreid, probably better known to you as Victor Laszlo in the classic Casablanca, made quite a few swashbucklers. This was probably his best.

The Three Musketeers (1948)

The Three Musketeers is probably the most-filmed story of its type and maybe of any source material. I know of at least eight different adaptations. Of all of them this version, featuring Gene Kelly, Lana Turner, Van Heflin, June Allyson, Angela Lansbury (!), Frank Morgan, Vincent Price, and Keenan Wynn, just to name the top-billed cast members, is the most fun.

The Crimson Pirate (1952)

I’m not sure whether to classify this movie as a spoof of pirate movies or just as a broad comedy. However you classify it, it stars Burt Lancaster and it’s tremendous fun. The scene with Burt Lancaster doing his acrobatics in the rigging of his ship is not to be missed.

Scaramouche (1952)

Some of the greatest fencing in any movie.

The Princess Bride (1987)

Who says you can’t make a great swashbuckler any more in the age of irony? This movie, like the novel from which it was adapted, is one of the greats.

The Mask of Zorro (1998)

Among modern swashbucklers I think this is a standout. Antonio Banderas contributes a welcome goofy quality, Catherine Zeta Jones beauty and spirit, and Anthony Hopkins gravity.

And no, I don’t care for the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

That’s my list. What are your favorite movie swashbucklers?

Update

Added The Princess Bride, Scaramouche, The Prisoner of Zenda and The Scarlet Pimpernel to my original list.

16 comments… add one
  • Andy

    The Princess Bride probably doesn’t completely meet your definition, but it’s at the top of my list.

  • sam

    That’s a nice list. I’s add Scaramouche (1952, Stewart Granger, Eleanor Parker). Has the longest sword fight in movie history, if I’m not mistaken.

  • You’re right about that. I’d intended to include Scaramouche but it slipped my mind as I was writing.

    I have taught fencing to quite a number of people and frequently used the line from the movie used by the fencing master as he gives Andre his first fencing lesson. Works every time.

    Andy:

    Whoops! I’d intended to include The Princess Bride. Will update.

  • Janis Gore
  • Janis Gore

    I’m trying here.

  • Janis Gore

    When I was a little girl, I thought Stewart Granger and Dirk Bogarde the most attractive men on TV. Haven’t changed my opinion much, either.

  • Janis Gore

    How about Beau Brummel?

  • Janis Gore

    You know, Beau Brummell, with Peter Ustinov, Robert Morley and Liz Taylor? This morning is a senior moment, I’m afraid.

  • Stewart Granger starred in quite a number of swashbucklers. IMO Scaramouche was his best and I try to limit my lists to one movie per leading actor. Also, I think I would classify Beau Brummel as a costumed historical drama rather than a swashbuckler.

    That’s the issue with Anthony Adverse as well. It almost is a swashbuckler.

  • Janis Gore

    Far be it from me to question your authority when it comes to drama, Mr. Schuler.

  • Janis Gore
  • PD Shaw

    The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) is my favorite. This is probably not my genre, and I thought of The Princess Bride, but am still not sure it is a swashbuckler.

    I’ve enjoyed The Buccanneer, but would classify it as historical epic —
    the sword fights IIRC take a distant second to history romance. My taste tend towards things like Captain Kronos, which is a supernatural film.

    Somewhere I have a list of best historical epics culled from a former Robert E. Howard fansite, and there is a Russian movie that a fencer said has the best swordfighting in it. I haven’t seen it.

  • Modulo Myself

    Can’t think of a single swashbuckler I’ve ever seen. Don’t think Verhoeven’s Flesh + Blood will do, or Herzog’s Cobra Verde. It doesn’t seem like the genre translated into 1950s with John Wayne and swordplay. You have to wonder about the sword=phallus symbolism and if that was maybe too much of a problem for everyone involved or if the war simply destroyed the genre.

    I did love the Disney animated Robin Hood when I was a kid. The Costner one not so much.

  • mike shupp

    Oh hell, man! I put my blank DVDs away just a few days ago and considered I was done with downloading old movies and now I could spend some evenings — a couple years of evenings — just watching movies. You’ve just ruined things for me!

    And I have to order more DVDs from Amazon.

  • sam

    I went back and read up on Scaramouche. Eleanor Parker thought that Granger didn’t know anything about fencing and that Mel Ferrer did. According to Ferrer, it was just the reverse. He was the ignorant one. He said, “Look, I’m a dancer. So I approached the fight sequences as if they were a series of dance moves. And it turned out pretty well.”

    That reminded me of the line attributed to George Burns: “Sincerity — If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”

  • Interestingly, I believe the originator of that quote was the French writer Jean Giraudoux.

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