The Southern Seas are blighted with pirates, as this ship discovers when they are boarded by a crew of scurvy dogs then tied up and left to die for the pirates have a habit of visiting the powder kegs of the craft they raid and setting light to them, thereby destroying all the people onboard as well as their ship. Not before they have looted the cargo hold, of course, and as they make their getaway, gloating as the vessel is shattered by the explosion, the Captain (Anders Randolf) does not realise he has made an enemy of one man (Douglas Fairbanks) who survived...
And that man becomes... drum roll... The Black Pirate! Not that we ever find out what his real name is, though he has a secret identity which is revealed at the end, but to fans the world over he was Douglas Fairbanks, one of the greatest movie stars who ever lived. In a few short years that accolade would have been muted as sound took over in Hollywood and he found his brand of derring-do was on the way out, or at least his mantle was taken by newer stars like Errol Flynn, but in 1926 the must-see movie was this, as not only did it guarantee action and adventure, but also it was presented in colour.
Two-strip Technicolor, granted, which was not quite as accurate as what was to come, but it must have looked spectacular in its day, especially in a film so dedicated to a visual panache as this was. Well, that was when it didn't break the projector, and Fairbanks was forced to put out a black and white version too, but it was a landmark in movie history simply for its pioneering, and rightfully a huge hit. Nowadays pirates in film means only one thing, and that's the Johnny Depp franchise of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean, so if you can imagine Fairbanks hitting those heights of global success you have some idea of what an impact his swashbuckler made in its era, something which still resonates to some extent in modern times.
Obviously being made in the Roaring Twenties it's going to look creakier than a glossy 21st Century blockbuster, but quite a bit of The Black Pirate's excitement, which was so infectious back then, remains when you watch it in spite of its fairly basic plotline. Remembering this was where it all started with the pirate movie genre, Treasure Island aside, then you can be impressed with Fairbanks' incredible athleticism and the film's overall dedication to creating memorable imagery, from the dramatic sequence where the hero ruins the ship's sails by tearing down them with a dagger to the climactic rescue where the sailors swim underwater towards the pirates like a fleet of sharks.
There was a damsel in distress, and she was Princess Isobel, who suffers the indignity of the buccaneers drawing straws to see who gets her, but the Black Pirate takes over their command and manages to persuade them to keep their hands off her. She was played by Billie Dove, consolidating her place as one of the biggest female stars of the silent era, although she's almost forgotten now largely thanks to most of her work being lost, but she would at least be preserved here even if she didn't get much to do but swoon and look anguished. As a hero in this sort of thing, Fairbanks was unimpeachable, unquestionably the character you want to support as not only has he lost his father to the baddies, but he takes remarkable means to bring them to justice, not particularly believably but the star sells it seemingly effortlessly. Certainly it has been superseded down the years, but it could proudly boast it set the standard for what was to follow.