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Film / Swashbuckler

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Swashbuckler is a romantic adventure film produced in the U.S. by Universal Studios and released in 1976. The film is based on the story "The Scarlet Buccaneer", written by Paul Wheeler and adapted for the screen by Jeffrey Bloom. It was directed by James Goldstone, and stars Robert Shaw, James Earl Jones, Peter Boyle, Geneviève Bujold, Beau Bridges and Geoffrey Holder.

In Jamaica in 1718, a band of pirates led by Captain “Red” Ned Lynch oppose a greedy overlord, the evil Lord Durant. Durant has ruthlessly imprisoned his Lord High Justice and mercilessly evicted the judge's wife and daughter. The daughter, Jane Barnet, attempts a rescue with Lynch’s help.

A Box Office Bomb when released, Swashbuckler has gone on to become a Cult Classic.

Tropes ahoy!

  • Action Girl: Far from being a spoilt, pampered noblewoman, Jane Barnet is fanatically dedicated to freeing her father, regaining her family fortune and liberating Jamaica from Durant's tyranny. She also shows herself be as good with a sword as most of the men, and able to hold her own in Bar Brawl; decking Alice with a single punch.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Lord Durant is surrounded by a Paid Harem of scantily-clad women that he pays almost no attention to. However, he keeps casting flirtatious glances at his male teenage lute player; is shown sharing a bath with him; and, when Jane calls him him a 'pederast', he doesn't deny it.
  • Antagonistic Governor: The Big Bad is acting governor Lord Durant. Durant is using his tenure to strip Jamaica of her wealth, planning to skip back to England with his ill-gotten gains. After he imprisons the Lord High Justice, the Justice's daughter starts a rebellion, and recruits the local pirates to her cause.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Lord Durant is a despot who is strips the colony for his own gain; jailing his political opponents without trial; removes the Lord High Justice from office, jails him, and evicts his wife and daughter; and attempts to flee when the going gets tough. He is is also probably a pederast.
  • Attempted Rape: During a tavern free-for-all between a band of pirates and British soldiers, the heroine Jane Barnett is nearly raped by a drunken soldier, but one sympathetic pirate slips her a dagger with which she kills her would-be assailant.
  • Awkwardly-Placed Bathtub: The bathtub is quite sensibly placed in the bathroom, but for some reason Lord Durant insists on conducting official business from it; to the obvious discomfort of those dealing with him.
  • Bar Brawl: One erupts at the bordello when the soldiers show up to arrest the pirates , and soon encompasses the entire establishment.
  • The Blade Always Lands Pointy End In: When Jane goes storming off the beach into the jungle, Lynch throws a sword at her, saying that she might need it. It lands—sticking up in the sand—at her heels and causes her to stop short.
  • Breaking Out the Boss: The film opens with Captain Lynch and the crew of the Blarney Cock assaulting the prison to rescue Lynch's first mate Nick from his Public Execution.
  • Cat Fight: There is a catfight between Jane and the wench Alice, when Jane discovers Alice is wearing her necklace (actually given to her by Captain Lynch). After much rolling on the floor, hair pulling, Clothing Damage, etc., Jane eventually ends the fight with with a right hook to Alice's jaw.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: Ned's opening move in the Bar Brawl in the brothel is to sweep a chair into one of the advancing soldiers. Later, during the assault on the fortress, several of the soldiers get bashed with a chair.
  • Clothing Damage: Jane starts off in a fairly modest and proper outfit. Then her clothing gets ripped in her Cat Fight with Alice. Then she gets soaked during her plunge into the ocean to escape the soldiers, which leaves her in her chemise while her outer clothes dry. Finally, Captain Lynch cuts the top of her chemise open, exposing her cleavage, during his fencing 'lesson'.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Beautifully summed up by "Red" Ned Lynch himself, as part of a lesson to Jane:
    Ned Lynch: Never fight fair when you're fighting for your life.
  • Devious Daggers: Cudjo, a knifethrowing rogue who helps the main characters to stage a revolution against the Big Bad Governor Durant. He carries at least a dozen knives on him at all times. In the story the film is based on, Captain Lynch notes that if someone ever invents a gun that can fire as fast as Cudjo can throw, it will be devastating.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Captain Lynch and his pirate crew disguise themselves as members of the Royal Navy as part of a plan to trick Lord Durant into loading his ill-gotten loot on to their ship. The plan was working until Jane decided to go all Leeroy Jenkins.
  • Edible Bludgeon: After jumping off the roof and crashing through the awning of the butchers' stall, Nick emerges clutching a leg of lamb that he uses to belt some of the pursuing soldiers.
  • Enigmatic Minion: The Woman of Dark Visage (played by Anjelica Huston). She appears to be a part of Antagonistic Governor Lord Durant's entourage, and is seen sitting in on all of his planning sessions. However, she never says a word, and Durant often looks to her before proceeding with a course of action, as if seeking her permission. Indeed, he actually seems afraid of her at some points. She is last seen vanishing into the night with Durant's body after the heroes have killed him. Exactly who she is and what her motivations are remain a Riddle for the Ages.
  • Fake Shemp: The scene where Jane Barnet dives naked into the sea is actually a body double who utilizes a skin-colored body-suit.
  • Flynning: True to the film's origins, all of the sword fights are pure Flynning, but still highly entertaining.
  • General Failure: Major Folly is well named. Not a single military action he attempts during the film comes off.
  • Give Me a Sword: During their final duel, Lord Durant loses his sword and Lynch stops the fight and orders one his crew to give Durant a sword so they can continue. Nick refuses, Mr. Moonbeam hands over his cutlass. A few minutes later, Lynch has his sword knocked from his hand. Durant does not pause the fight, but Jane tosses Lynch her sword just him for him to parry Durant's attempt at a killing blow.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Several bottles get smashed over the heads of soldiers during the Bar Brawl in the bordello.
  • A Handful for an Eye: Lynch does this to Jane when they are fencing on the beach, flicking a handful of sand into her eyes. She attempts to return the favour, but Lynch is prepared and blocks it.
    Ned Lynch: Never fight fair when you're fighting for your life.
  • Hero Stole My Bike: Lynch and Nick steal a wagon full of bananas from a local fruit vendor to escape from the soldiers following the fight at the brothel. Given the chase ends with them driving the wagon off a cliff, it's unlikely he ever got it back. (Lynch did, at least, release the horses before they went over the cliff.)
  • High-Speed Hijack: Lynch and Nick hijack Major Folly's carriage by jumping on to the back of it, then climbing across the roof and throwing off the driver and guard. Then take control of the coach and drive it to the cove where their ship is waiting.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: When the lute player attempts to stab Lynch In the Back, Jane trips him. He falls down the stairs and impales himself on his Wolverine Claws.
  • Honor Before Reason: Major Folly decides to stay and fight Lynch and his entire crew while Lord Durant flees because it is his duty, even as Lynch tells him that now is the time to drop his sword and run for his life. With reluctant respect, Lynch takes pity on him and has Polanski just knock him out.
  • Human Shield: Lord Durant grabs Jane and uses her as a human shield when he attempts to escape during the final battle. Too bad for him Lynch chooses to Shoot the Hostage Taker.
  • Job Title: Although it also describes the genre.
  • Kangaroo Court: Antagonistic Governor Lord Durant removes the Lord High Justice, appoints himself to the position, and then sentences the previous Justice to imprisonment of an indeterminate period to be served at the Governor's pleasure.
  • Kingpin in His Gym: Big Bad Lord Durant is shown in his salle practicing against three sparring partners when Major Folly arrives to deliver more bad news. Having already wounded two his partners, Durant kills the third as an expression of his displeasure.
  • A Lady on Each Arm: When the pirates celebrate the successful theft of the Barnet's treasure from Major Folly's coach with rum and wenches, Nick is seen roistering with a pair of wenches (one black, one white) clinging to either arm.
  • Leeroy Jenkins: Jane ruins her own plan to rob Lord Durant and then kill him by suddenly screaming "I'm going to kill you!" and leaping at him wielding a candelabra.
  • Literally Falling in Love: When the pirates storm the fortress to free the prisoners, Lynch has to climb to rescue Jane from a cage that is hanging suspended from the ceiling. During the fight, the cage is set swinging, and when they jump out, Jane lands on top of Lynch who lying on his back. This is the moment when the UST between finally breaks, and they kiss. Nick finally has to interrupt them and tell they still have work to do.
  • The Need for Mead: The day after stealing the Barnet treasure from Major Folly, the crew of the Blarney Cock take the celebration into a combination tavern/brothel. They are interrupted first by the arrival of Jane Barnet, and then by a squad of soldiers. Needless to say, a Bar Brawl erupts.
  • No Escape but Down: Lynch, Nick and Jane escape from the mounted soldiers by driving a wagon full of bananas of a cliff into the ocean.
  • No Name Given: The Lute Player and the Woman of Dark Visage are never addressed by name in the movie, and are only identified by those designations in the credits.
  • Not in This for Your Revolution: Nick is very clear about this when Jane attempts to recruit Captain Lynch and the Blarney Cock to spring her father from prison and overthrow Lord Durant: especially as he knows that Lynch is falling for her. Jane promises to pay the crew for their part in the plan, which mollifies him.
    Nick Debrett: We're pirates, not revolutionaries.
  • One-Word Title
  • Outside Ride: Ned and Lynch catch up to Major Folly's carriage on foot, jump on to the back of it and then climb across the roof in order to perform their High-Speed Hijack.
  • Paid Harem: In his first scene, the Antagonistic Governor Lord Durant is taking a bath surrounded by a bevy of beautiful, scantily clad women that he shows no interest in. They do not reappear and seemingly serve no function. Presumably Durant has them because he believes it is the sort of thing an Evil Overlord is supposed to have.
  • Pet Gets the Keys: When they storm the fortress to rescue Sir James, the pirates find the door to the lower level of the dungeons locked, and the jailer passed out drunk on the stairs, too far from the door to reach. The street performers send their pet monkey through the bars of the door to retrieve the keys from the jailer's belt.
  • Pinned to the Wall: Cudjo pins a pickpocket's sleeve to a post with a thrown dagger.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Major Folly is really just a soldier trying to do his job of keeping order in the colony and obeying his superior's orders. Unfortunately, his superior is the Antagonistic Governor Lord Durant, so his actions are helping to spread oppression. He comes across as sympathetic and is even shown trying to become better at his job (e.g. studying the manual on executions after Nick's botched hanging). Captain Lynch and his crew seem to bear him no particular malice, and during the final showdown—after Folly demonstrates his courage and honour by preparing to face down Lynch and his entire pirate crew singlehanded, even though it means certain death—Lynch takes pity on him and has him knocked out instead of killed.
  • Shameful Strip: In a rare male-to-male example, Major Folly is disconcerted when Lord Durant tells him to do this: especially as he tells him to do it item by item, and does not dismiss the other people in the room first. However, Durant actually wants him stripped to the waist so the lute play can rake him down the chest with his Wolverine Claws as a warning as to what might happen to Folly should he fail him again.
  • Shoot the Hostage Taker: Lord Durant attempts to escape from Lynch and his men by grabbing Jane and holding a knife to her throat. He backs towards the balcony, planning to get to the carriage that is waiting for him below. However, Lynch pegs him through the heart with a thrown sword.
  • Skinny Dipping: Jane dives naked off the side of the ship and goes swimming around the caves on the cliff, watched by Ned Lynch. This historically accurate as swimming costumes did not exist in this period, and most definitely not just blatant Fanservice and an excuse to show the exquisite Geneviève Bujold naked.
  • Spaghetti Kiss: Lynch and his wench Alice start eating a papaya at either end; working towards the middle. However, the moment is interrupted by Cudjo throwing a knife into the papaya.
  • Staircase Tumble: When the lute player attempts to stab Lynch In the Back, Jane trips him and he falls down the stairs; ultimately impaling himself on his Wolverine Claws.
  • Stock Punishment: After being captured at the customs house, Mr. Moonbeam is held in a pillory at the fortress. During the assault of the fortress, his pal Polanski uses his Stout Strength to bust him loose.
  • Stout Strength: Polanski (Avery Schreiber) is noticeably overweight, but is also the strongest member of Lynch's crew. He smashes his way through a wooden wall at the customs house, and is able to snap the steel hasp holding shut Moonbeam's pillory.
  • Super Window Jump: Lynch jumps through the skylight at the brothel—glass and all—in order to rescue Nick and Jane from the soldiers.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: When Lord Durant grabs Jane and uses her as a Human Shield as he backs towards the window, Lynch hurls his rapier like a javelin and skewers Durant through the heart.
  • Torture Technician: Durant's silent lute player is supposed to be an expert in the art of torture. Durant uses his reputation (and a small demonstration) as a warning to Major Folly about what will happen to him if he screws up again. Fortunately, the lute player's talents are never demonstrated on screen.
  • *Twang* Hello: Cudjo announces his presence to Lynch by throwing a knife into the papaya Lynch is eating.
  • The Voiceless: Neither the lute player nor the Woman of Dark Visage utter a word while they are on the screen. It is not clear if they can't speak, or just chose not to, but the lute player remains silent even after accidentally stabbing himself in the stomach.
  • What Exactly Is Her Job: The Woman of Dark Visage is obviously not part of Lord Durant's Paid Harem, and seems to hold an important position in Durant's court; to the point that Durant actually seems to be afraid of her at times. However, exactly what that position might be is anyone's guess. She is last seen vanishing into the night with Durant's body.
  • Wolverine Claws: Lord Durant's lute player wears a set of claw-like nail sheaths on each of fingers when he tortures Major Folly. He later uses them when he attempts to claw Lynch in the back during his duel with Durant. he is Hoist by His Own Petard when Jane trips him and falls on top of his blades; fatally stabbing himself.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: During his final duel with Captain Lynch, Lord Durant fakes having a heart attack. This lures Jane close enough to him for him to grab her and use her as a Human Shield.
  • You Fight Like a Cow: The film is full of them:
    Lynch: Here you are, my lord.
    [handing over a cutlass]
    Lynch: The blade, you know, is very sharp.
    Lord Durant: Unlike your wit.


Video Example(s):


Swashbuckler Pillory Bits

Showing Pillory scenes from the film Swashbuckler.

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