In a relatively brief film career that lasted two decades, Douglas Fairbanks played in 49 movies, was a director, screenwriter, producer, and along with D. W. Griffith, Charles Chaplin, and Mary Pickford, was one of the founders of United Artists. His sixteen year marriage to Pickford made them the first Hollywood celebrity couple.
However, Fairbanks, who started out in movie comedies, is best remembered for the dashing, acrobatic, often wry and roguish heroes that he brought to the screen in a series of films in the 1920s. He is also noted for doing most of his own stunt work that included often dangerous feats.
Five Fairbanks films of note from this period are:
The Mark of Zorro (1920)
This film set in the Spanish California of the early 1800s features Fairbanks as the somewhat unmanly Don Diego Vega and his alter-ego, Zorro, a one-man sword-wielding army waging war against the corrupt government. His trademark is a “Z” slashed into his enemies’ clothing or, occasionally, on their skin.
Fairbanks reprised the role in 1925 in Don Q, Son of Zorro.
The Three Musketeers (1921)
The acting, particularly by Fairbanks, is on the hammy side and the plot is hard to follow unless the viewer is familiar with the original story. However, Doug has a good time in playing D’Artagnan, the young dreamer who wants to prove that he is worthy of becoming a musketeer,
Fairbanks had played the same character in A Modern Musketeer (1917) and would do so again in The Iron Mask (1929).
Robin Hood (1922)
Fairbanks was at the top of his form in this lavish epic film that was one of the most heavily budgeted movies of the 1920s. Among his notable stunts are when his Robin Hood leaps from a parapet and rides an enormous tapestry thirty feet or more to the ground and climbs up the chain of a closing drawbridge to the top of a castle wall.
The three hour movie also includes a lengthy Crusades “prequel” that provides a background for the story.
The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
In this piece of cinema magic, a roguish, self-centered thief (Fairbanks) goes on a fantastic journey in order to win the hand of a princess. His odyssey literally takes him from the bottom of the sea to the heavens above and results in his redemption.
This Arabian Nights spectacular was the perfect fit for Fairbanks. His flamboyant and sometimes over the top acting, his physical skills, and exuberance were a perfect fit for this movie, one of the great epic films from the 1920s.