Hello, everybody. Your classic movie guys back again with a special treat, another in our six-part series devoted to Allan Dwan.
As critic-columnist Dave Kehr of The New York Times noted in May —His extraordinary career is the subject of an exhaustively researched recent biography by Fredric Lombardi. The book is titled Allan Dwan and the Rise and Decline of the Hollywood Studios, published by McFarland, 2013.
To order the book click here.
The book prompted (and was the basis of) a full-fledged retrospective Dwan’s work that was staged at New York’s Museum of Modern Art from June 5 through July 8.
Fred has kindly agreed to adapt portions of his new book into six guest blogs for us. Here’s he is with another in our series, this one about Douglas Fairbanks Sr.
Douglas Fairbanks Sr. was the first megastar hero of the movies.
Fairbanks appeared at a time when there was much anxiety about masculine values and the loss of individualism as men had moved from working on farms to factories and offices. A formula of transformation was set in Fairbanks’ early movies as the hapless male lead would learn to become a hero.
His films often had a tongue-in-cheek quality and reviews usually referred to the star as a “comedian.”
Thus, the basics of his screen persona were already established when Fairbanks made his first film with Allan Dwan, THE HABIT OF HAPPINESS (1916). The best of the four Dwan/Doug movies of 1916 was MANHATTAN MADNESS with fast-paced editing unusual for its time and a thoroughly playful and ingenious plot.
Having performed briefly as a quarterback for Notre Dame, Dwan was well-qualified to help plan the elaborate physical stunts of the Fairbanks movies.
Fairbanks was a savvy producer who assumed creative control of his films, but he and Dwan were also congenial collaborators and they made ten films together, more than Doug made with any other director.
There was a bitter split between Dwan and Fairbanks with the director apparently walking off the set of one of their films in 1918.
Fairbanks was then under pressure as his marriage was crumbling while he carried on an affair with Mary Pickford. The rupture was acrimonious enough that the usually placid Dwan confessed to an interviewer that he had later suffered a nervous breakdown.
Meanwhile, there was a coming sea change in Fairbanks’ career as he turned to making elaborate swashbucklers with THE MARK OF ZORRO (1920) and THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1921).
Doug and Dwan would re-unite to make the 1922 ROBIN HOOD.
Hollywood was then in the doldrums following the Roscoe (Fatty) Arbuckle scandal, and a year long economic depression had settled over the country.
Since both Fairbanks and Dwan had a hand in the script, it is not surprising that the plot centered on the friendship between Robin and King Richard that was soured by a misunderstanding.
ROBIN HOOD proved to be a smash success that helped revive the film industry.
Dwan and Fairbanks then went their separate ways until Doug called his director friend back one last time to work on THE IRON MASK (1929).
The silent film era was then drawing to a close and at the age of forty-five Doug would soon to be too old to demonstrate athletic prowess. This was an energetic film with an elegiac and mystical ending that celebrated all that was transcendent in human beings.
Dwan and Doug had worked from outlines rather than finished scripts, improvising on the set. But with the emergence of the sound era and detailed scripts with dialogue, that freedom was ending.
Fairbanks would make no more swashbucklers, and after 1934, no more films at all. He would die in late 1939 at the age of 56, a little more than a decade after the release of THE IRON MASK.