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Film / By the Sword

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Two masters, one school

1991 movie about fencing, directed by Jeremy Paul Kagan and starring F. Murray Abraham, Mia Sara, and Eric Roberts.

Max Suba (Abraham) has just been released from prison, and is seeking a job as a fencing instructor at his old school. The Maestro, Villard (Roberts), disagrees, as his form is terrible, but agrees to hire him as a janitor. Over the course of the weeks leading to Nationals, Suba gets back into shape, and becomes a part time instructor for the beginners. The two secretly have a history together, and is discovered over time, leading to a climactic duel between the two.

The film, while completed in 1991, wasn't released until 1993, and was a complete bomb, making just above six thousand dollars. It was released on video, but never on DVD, and is hard to find.

What makes this film noteworthy is that it is the first feature film about the sport of fencing, something no other film had previously revolved around.


This film contains examples of:

  • Almighty Janitor: Suba starts off as this, and then moves on to becoming the Badass he used to be.
  • The Atoner: Suba is one for killing Villard's father.
  • Badass Teacher: Both Villard and Suba
  • Blade Lock: During the climax, Suba and Villard in their duel do this multiple times.
  • Born in the Wrong Century: Villard wonders what it would be like to actually fight to the death.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Villard's father's rapier
  • Decoy Protagonist: The film starts off with some of Villard's young students, then focuses on Villard and Suba for most of the movie.
  • Duel to the Death: What caused Max to be locked in prison for twenty years
  • Every Year They Fizzle Out: Villard believes that his father was this, since his father was a famous fencing champion who died in a duel with a student. Suba, who was that student, eventually sets the record straight. Villard Sr. had found out that Suba and his wife were sleeping together, and gave Suba a live rapier for their fight while only arming himself with a blunt training sword. Villard Sr. then beat Suba within an inch of his life until finally he decided to show mercy to Suba. At that point a humiliated Suba stabbed Villard Sr. in the back.
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  • Evil Mentor: Villard is doing this to Jim Trebor.
  • Flynning: Noticeably averted in the final duel.
  • Groin Attack: Both Suba and Villard knee each other in the balls during the final fight.
  • It's All Junk: After finding out about the truth of his father's death and losing the "real fight" he always wanted, Villaird snaps his family's rapier over his knee, although he uses the hilt to salute Suba.
  • Master Swordsman: The two main characters.
  • Meaningful Name: Possibly accidental, but a Tsuba (usually pronounced 'Suba' by Westerners) is the guard on a Katana, Wakazashi, or No-Dachi
  • Nerf Arm: Suba is able to fight the rapier-wielding Villard using a foil with the rubber tip flicked off. In the past, his own master was able to best him with a blunt sword.
  • Ordered to Cheat: Villard orders Trebor to fight viciously, even if it means drawing blood from the opponent.
  • Passionate Sports Girl: Erin
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The St. Jude's squad who are eventually taught by Suba.
  • Redemption Quest: One for Suba, we don't find out why until later. That he killed Villard's father in a duel.
  • Retired Badass: Max Suba, rusty, and in serious need of practice, but when he does, watch out.
  • Royal Rapier: Villard's father sword is in a case at his school. He later uses it in his battle against Suba.
  • Sadist Teacher: Villard
  • Sword Fight: It's a movie about fencing, what did you expect?
  • Sword over Head: Suba does this to Villard, then sits down to relax from being wounded in the duel. Villard approaches him, and instead of killing him, drops his sword, showing his respect.
  • Sword Plant: Villard does this with his father's rapier one night while practicing.
  • Training Montage: When Suba begins teaching, the St. Jude students go through this by Max's teaching.
  • Troubled, but Cute: Jim Trebor summed up.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Part of Suba's Start of Darkness was sleeping with his master's wife.


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