This is my personal selection of top swashbuckling films. One of my obvious favorites is the Princess Bride, but I already did a post on it recently. I’ve chosen a few lesser known ones (at least lesser known in North America) and classics that I found particularly appealing, and although Hollywood has often mucked up its attempts at swashbuckling, a few worthy tinseltown films have made the list.
Les Trois Mousqetaires (The Three Musketeers)
This French 1961 screen adaptation is the best there is! It’s mostly accurate as compared to the novel, except maybe a little more over the top. D’Artagnan has a crazy habit of jumping out of windows, and there’s also a tremendous bar fight with tables, shelves, and everything in between used as weapons. This film really inspired a lot of my writing… now you can see where the wackiness comes from.
Les Maries de L’An Deux (English title The Swashbuckler)
This is the ultimate swashbuckling adventure starring Jean-Paul Belmondo, who gallivants around Revolutionary France insulting and fighting Royalists and Revolutionarists alike while trying to woo his wife.
Here’s another story of someone who doesn’t give a damn about the French Revolution but becomes entangled in politics while pursuing the woman of his dreams. Our swashbuckler is an actor, hiding his identity behind the mask of Scaramouche, a buffoon of the stage. In the meantime, he takes fencing lessons that will enable him to seek revenge on a haughty marquis. Based on Rafael Sabatini’s novel, which begins, “He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.”
The Mark of Zorro
“The film is based on the story The Curse of Capistrano written by Johnston McCulley, originally published in 1919, which introduced the masked hero Zorro. The story is set in Southern California during the early 19th century. – Wikipedia
This is, for my money, the best Zorro movie ever. It perfectly captures the concept of the double identity and includes a great fencing scene. Accoring to Wikipedia, ” In 2009, it was named to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being “culturally, historically or aesthetically” significant and will be preserved for all time.”
This is another awesome Zorro movie starring French heartthrob Alain Delon. Famous swordsman Diego sees his friend Miguel assassinated right before his eyes. He finds out the name of the killer, but before he dies Miguel makes him swear not to take revenge by bloodshed. Diego journeys to Nueva Aragona and takes Miguel’s place, posing as the new governor. He fights injustices in the Zorro disguise, but without killing anyone, how will he take revenge against the evil colonel who killed his friend? With the addition of an eccentric aunt, a mute servant, a rebellious young lady, and a Great Dane who all join the cause of justice, this is an awesome Zorro extravaganza! And this is the super-catchy opening theme song:
The Scarlet Pimpernel
This is kind of a Zorro story in reverse. Sir Percy Blakeney, a wealthy aristocrat, has an alter ego as the Scarlet Pimpernel, a hero who rescues nobles from the guillotine in Revolutionary France. When not in the guise of the Scarlet Pimpernel, he pretends to be a fatuous fashion monger, as in this scene, where as one YouTuber aptly described it, Sir Percy PWNS the chief agent of the Committee of National Security.
This is a very entertaining pirate film with a female lead (hurray!). Also, it was a huge box office flop. I don’t understand why it flopped; it’s probably some latent sexism on the part of mass audiences who believe a woman pirate who means business and has a pet monkey is not a realistic figure. Of course, history begs to differ. There were plenty of female pirates, some were captains of ships.
Anyways, the story is basically about a treasure hunt, romance, and revenge, all good pirate motivations.
Count of Monte Cristo
An innocent sailor becomes the victim of a political conspiracy and is imprisoned on false charges. Many years later, he escapes from the seemingly inescapable island prison of Chateau d’If and finds a priceless treasure. Then he begins to wreak revenge on his enemies!
Unlike the usual Hollywood attempt at a classic novel, this one is actually an improvement on the book! It’s much more jolly. Purists will probably not agree, but for my taste the book was too long-winded.
Fanfan la Tulipe
An ambitious young man is told his fortune by a gypsy… she tells him he will join the army, win glory and marry the king’s daughter. Although the gypsy is not a real fortune teller, Fanfan starts believeing in his destiny, and when he happens to rescue the princess of France, it seems all the predictions are about to come true…
Fanfan la Tulipe is a character from French folklore and song. He’s represented with great humour and swashbuckliness here by Gerard Philipe. If you’re going to watch Fanfan la Tulipe, this movie version from 1952 is much better than the 2003 one.
Pirates of the Carribean
The first film in the series really added something fresh and new to the swashbuckling genre, (the sequels are so lame I will not even talk about them here…) The good thing is, the series really revived people’s interest in pirates! It also originated some classic lines such as “Why is the rum gone?!”