The Black Swan

The Black Swan (1942)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Tyrone Power, Maureen O'Hara, Laird Cregar, George Sanders
Extras: Commentary Track, Restoration Comparison, Theatrical Trailer

Classic swashbuckling adventures have always been one of my guilty pleasures. The sense of romanticism these films ooze, the beautiful cinematography they usually involve, the paradise locales and most of all, the sea, are the attractions that get me to watch these films over and over again. Now, we have the 1942 Academy Award-winning adventure "The Black Swan" on DVD as part of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's "Studio Classics" line, and I was eager to take a look.

Tyrone Power plays Jamie Boy a pirate captain who goes straight after his friend, the infamous pirate Henry Morgan (Laird Cregar), has been nominated governor of Jamaica by the King of England and helps him to rid the Caribbean of buccaneers and pirates. The fact that he falls in love with a local beauty, Lady Margaret (Maureen O'Hara), makes it fairly easy for him to stay clear off trouble, because he has his hands full trying to make the hothead fall in love with him.
In the meanwhile the previous governor and his minions scheme to bring down Morgan and his men. Putting pressure on them through the local magistrates, trying to convince everyone that Morgan and his men are corrupt pirates still, these former officials actually work with the real pirates providing them with information that allows them to sink and plunder ships with valuable cargo, making Morgan and his men look like incapable fools.
It doesn't take long for Jamie to figure out what is really going on and soon he knows just how to counter their maneuvering for personal gain.

"The black Swan" is simply a fun movie filled with everything you'd expect and hope for. Daring adventures, romance, golden sunsets, thundering cannons, and more. Nicely acted for its period and with a lavish production design, the film whisks you away with ease. Even though over 60 years old, even the special effects and miniature ships hold up pretty well within the context of the overall film.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has prepared a great-looking transfer for this classic movie. Shot in Technicolor, the movie exhibits the trademark look of the period with rich colors and deep blacks. The transfer is clean, without blemishes and mostly free of grain making for a wonderful viewing. Colors are strong and vibrant at all times, truly showing off the costumes and locales, but also nicely reflecting the look of dingy ship interiors and their crews. Black levels are solid and deep, giving the picture good visual depth without breaking up or losing detail. No edge-enhancement of compression artifacts mar the presentation.

The DVD contains a stereo audio track in English as well as mono tracks in English, French and Spanish. All tracks are of fairly good quality and without notable problems or shortcomings. Only the limited frequency response dates the film, a dialogue and music is a bit on the harsh side. In many ways, however, I have always felt that that is part of the charm of these films.

As extras the movie comes wit ha commentary track by film historian Rudy Belmer and actress Maureen O'Hara. This is an exceptional commentary, filled with valuable historic information about the genre, the period and the movie but also full of anecdotes and information about the production of this film in particular. Despite her age, O'Hara still sounds like a young woman and comes across equally energetic. The details she remembers about the film – and others – or about the people involved is simply remarkable, especially considering that it was shot over 60 years ago. I don't know about you but I have trouble remembering certain things after even relatively short periods of time, and to hear O'Hara talk about tiny little technical details that went into the production is simply astonishing. Considering that she was an actress on the picture and not involved in any technical capacity, I bow to her knowledge, insight and most importantly memory. For 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment to bring her in on this commentary track is a blessing that is overlooked far too many times by other studios.

Also included is a restoration comparison, which shows you side by side the difference the restoration has made in the look and preservation of the film, using a split-screen technique. The feature compares the film transfer before and after its film restoration in 2004, as well as the digital restoration the film underwent following the film restoration. Although there is some text information roughly outlining the steps, I feel that the comparison is not as good and effective as it could have turned out. While it is easily evident how a transfer free of blemishes and scratches looks better, the color corrections made to the film are not so easily to spot or accept for that matter. The fact that we have gotten so used to the look of bleached Technicolor transfers makes the properly color-corrected version look oversaturated almost, and appearing flat. It is only once you really look closer that you notice that the process not only affected the colors but also the overall detail and definition of the image bringing out details and textures that were previously lost. In my opinion a proper featurette on the subject would have been much more valuable as it would have been able to exactly point out to viewers what to look for and how to interpret the images we see on screen.

The DVD is rounded out by the movie's trailer.

"The Black Swan" is everything you'd hope for an 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's presentation of this movie on this DVD is marvelous all the same. Genre fans will dig this DVD and sink their teeth in it. But for all fans of classic movies, "The Black Swan" is a great release allowing us to feast our eyes on the glory of Technicolor as well as the magnificent cinematography of this picture. Do get this release!