Douglas Fairbanks disc 5

The Nut (1921): At this point the box breaks the chronological continuity it’s otherwise maintained, and probably rightly so; by this time Fairbanks had already unleashed The Mark of Zorro but was evidently still unsure about pursuing that direction any further, and so produced this one last attempt at his established style. His expectations of it being a hit like his earlier works were unexpectedly dashed, and only confirmed that the Zorro model was what he should actually continue with. I have to say, though I’ve enjoyed this collection by and large, the films haven’t really benefitted from being watched all in a row like this, and The Nut was evidently the point where audiences back in the day had seen just one reiteration too many of the Fairbanks formula. This time he’s an eccentric, not altogether competent inventor trying (and failing) to help his love interest with a project of her own, has to save her from the evil clutches of another very bad man… yeah. It’s minor, though probably not actually bad as such; it actually does have some rather good moments. But after all those other films in which Doug does much the same thing, it probably looks weaker than it actually is on the whole. Fortunately he had enough sense to realise he should call time on his proto-Harold Lloyd character and let Lloyd himself take over while he moved elsewhere…

The Mark of Zorro (1920): Where we finally take our leave of Doug as he embarks upon the second stage of his career. Though what’s interesting is that, to some extent, Don Diego/Zorro isn’t too far removed from his earlier characters, there’s still a kind of “lamb into lion” moment at the end when he finally reveals that the hapless fop Don Diego was Zorro the masked avenger all along… it’s just that this time the lamb seems to be more of a mask for the lion. Whatever way you want to look at it, this is tremendous stuff, to the point where I’m left wondering why audiences in 1920 might have a problem with him changing tack in this manner; he’d clearly let himself get into a rut and his contemporary comedies were evidently starting to wear thin with him and his viewers, and this seems like the best thing he could’ve done to get out of that groove and into a new one. Plentiful action, a nice bit of romance, all of that, no wonder it was a major hit back in the day and kind of invented its own genre (plus, by Bob Kane’s admission, we wouldn’t have Batman without it, so here’s something for the Christopher Nolan mafia to look back to). A suitably triumphant end to the Douglas Fairbanks box.

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