A trailblazer

Douglas Fairbanks's films were novel as they mixed interesting themes and stunning action with a comic touch. It was a recipe of success that even Tamil filmmakers emulated.

March 17, 2011 04:02 pm | Updated 04:02 pm IST

"Uthama Puthiran".

"Uthama Puthiran".

(This is the third of the four-part article)

Douglas Fairbanks was a pioneer of sorts. His ‘The Mark of Zorro' (1920) established a new genre – that of the ‘swashbuckler.' His daring stunts including dangerous ones, for which he deserved and got applause, kept the audience hooked and his touches of humour notched up the enjoyment quotient. Naturally, he had a string of successes. ‘The Black Pirate' (1926) was one such hit for Douglas Fairbanks. In it he performed another stunning stunt. He was shown sliding down the sails of a pirate ship, ripping it behind him as he went so that the pirates could not use the ship again.

‘The Black Pirate' was the obvious inspiration for Burt Lancaster's ‘The Crimson Pirate' (box office hit), which in turn motivated MGR's ‘Aayirathil Oruvan,' in which he was paired with Jayalalitha. This was their first film as the lead pair. The Tamil version was also a success and many sequences showed the influence of the Fairbanks original.

An important Fairbanks movie was ‘The Iron Mask' (1929). It was not based on the Alexandre Dumas novel, ‘The Man In The Iron Mask,' which he wrote in 1850. Many movies with the same title (‘The Man In The Iron Mask') have been made in Hollywood and Indian languages including Tamil. Some of them followed the Fairbanks movie.

The writers of Fairbanks adapted the sequel to ‘The Three Musketeers' novel ‘Twenty Years After', which became the springboard for ‘The Iron Mask'.

Tale of twins

A tale of identical royal twins, one of whom is the heir to the throne of France (Louis the Fourteenth). Cardinal Richelieu takes away one child and later he is thrown into a dungeon with his face locked in an iron mask. T .R. Sundaram of Modern Theatres successfully adapted this film as ‘Utthama Puthiran' with P.U. Chinnappa in a double role. Years later it was remade by Tatineni Prakash Rao for Venus Pictures with Sivaji Ganesan playing the dual roles and was written by the up-and-coming Sridhar. It was also a box office hit.

The story of identical twins was used often in Tamil cinema, and Dumas himself used it to write his famous ‘The Corsican Brothers,' which was also made into Tamil. The Gemini Studios version ‘Apoorva Sagotharargal' with M.K. Radha playing the twins was a box office hit. MGR played the twins in a rehash of the film. It was called ‘Neerum Neruppum,' which did not do as well.

(To be concluded)

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