Maureen O’Hara plays the feisty heroine in Twentieth Century Fox’s 1942 Technicolor epic “The Black Swan,” which also stars Tyrone Power, George Sanders, Anthony Quinn and Laird Cregar. It’s a color saturated blend of pirate ships, treachery on the Spanish Main and swashbuckling action with a mean streak. Power’s character, Jamie Waring, continually assaults Lady Margaret Denby (O’Hara), a woman of high standing who eventually succombs to Waring’s charms despite misunderstanding his motives for the entire film. Not that anybody should be worthy of trust in this Caribbean milieu, since even the pirates work with or against the British crown at various times.
The film opens with an easier enemy, as Jamie and his pirates attack Port Royal in Jamaica, conquer it, and then drink and carouse nearby. Naturally, the Spanish rebound and capture the loutish group. Lord Denby (George Zucco), the British governor, arrives to tell everyone to honor a recent peace treaty between Britain and Spain. But then, the famous pirate Captain Morgan (Creger) arrives with news that he’s just been appointed the new governor of Jamaica with orders to stamp out piracy. Jamie joins Captain Morgan but the other pirates refuse to cooperate and take off on the Black Swan sailing ship to plunder anew. George Sanders plays Captain Billy Leech, the main enemy of the crown and the commander of the Black Swan.
Part of the fun in all this involves the constant double dealing going on. O’Hara wants to marry Roger Ingram, a nobleman who seems to be working with the Captain Leech. Jamie sizes Ingram up as a sham immediately, and tells Margaret about it, but she’s so full of hatred for Jamie that she refuses to listen to him. Margaret consistently rejects Jamie but that makes him even more determined to win her. Finally, he kidnaps her, puts her on his ship and sets sail after Leech and the Black Swan. It’s a surprisingly brutal abduction, but the movie, directed by Henry King, gives the feisty O’Hara a heavy-hand throughout. The screenplay, written by Ben Hecht and others, doesn’t give a nod to chivalry at all. Margaret takes more abuse than Captain Morgan.
The film culminates in an epic sea battle in the harbor at the Island of Tortuga. The viewer expects Jamie and company to save the day, but victories don’t come easy for him him in this movie. Leech is a formidable opponent and since Captain Morgan and Margaret don’t know which side he’s on, it takes awhile to sort everything out even after the guns stop firing. This makes The Black Swan a very interesting film indeed.