I thought I’d take some time to share a few classics I enjoy—of a sword fighting variety of course! These sword fighting movies are the ones that gave me some of my earliest inspiration and still do to this day.
This is probably my all time favorite sword fighting flic. From 1977, this was Ridley Scott’s directorial debut. It stars Harvey Keitell and Keith Carradine as two officers in Napoleon’s army who pursue each other through a series of duels over the course of two decades. The sword fights are gritty and diverse from smallsword, to backsword, to mounted combat. They are not all artful but they give a feeling of authenticity that speaks to the reality of many sword fights. Even more amazingly the movie is based on a true story that is itself even more amazing than the screenplay.
The Adventures of Robin Hood
One of my first cinematic inspirations as a child was watching classic movies with Errol Flynn. The actor interestingly enough died in Vancouver, the home of Academie Duello. The real sword fighting star of most of these movies was Basil Rathbone who matched Errol’s charisma with superb fighting skill. The Adventures of Robin Hood from 1938 broke a ton of new ground in film sword fights and is still copied in sword fights to this day. From fighting up and down the circular stairs of a castle to the iconic witnessing the fight through its cast shadows.
Errol was notoriously drunk on set so Basil had to carry a lot of the action himself. Yet somehow the two were an excellent team creating some very engaging fight scenes.
The Three Musketeers
The Three Musketeers is the most remade movie in film history with over 100 productions of it shot around the world since 1903. Many of them are excellent but I have two particular favorite versions:
The 1948 version staring Gene Kelly. I only saw this version a few years ago but was blown away. Gene Kelly’s fight scenes are some of the most acrobatic ever shot on film. He back flips his away around his opponents, leaps off a 20 foot cliff into a lunge, and does some serious parkour all with Gene Kelly panache.
The 1973 version stars Michael York as D’Artagnan, follows the novel pretty faithfully, and features some excellent and humourous fights. A favorite is one where the down on their luck Musketeers stage a tavern brawl as a ruse to steal foodusing their sword fighting skills.
The Princess Bride
I had the chance to meet Mandy Patinkin (who played Inigo Montoya) in Academie Duello’s first year. He was filming a television show next to where we were practicing and one of the Assistant Director’s interrupted our class to invite me to come on set and meet him. He told some incredible stories about the 3 months of daily training that director Rob Reiner had them undergo (unheard of in the industry) and how that saved them. When they arrived for filming the iconic fight between Inigo and the Man in Black they found that the Cliffs of Insanity set was completely different than what they had been training for. Bob Anderson (the fight master) and the two actors had to completely rechoreograph, relearn and then shoot the fight in 2 days! It was only because of all the up front time they’d invested that they were able to accomplish this so smoothly.
After telling me these stories Mandy came out to meet my whole class and recreated the scene in the castle hallway where Inigo fights off four guards in his pursuit of count Rughen. He still had it (this was 15 years later). My students swore they’d never wash the spots where he’d stabbed them.
What are your favorite sword fighting classics? Shoot me an email and let me know and I’ll watch them and maybe feature them in a future post!