Category Archives: The Best Swordfight Movies of All Time

Flash and clash

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/1937576″>The Sword Fights of Errol Flynn</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user219614″>Russ McClay</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

This lovingly compiled selection of swordfight sequences from Errol Flynn movies is tremendous fun to watch, but it does show how by-the-numbers Hollywood could get with its blade choreography. How many recurring themes can you spot? The nose-to-nose clinch between hero and sneering villain? The attempt to add suspense by having the  hero tumble down stairs or stumble over furniture? The gallantry of the hero, who returns the villain’s dropped blade rather than put an end to it? Did every cinematographer’s contract require the use of huge shadows in the background?

Now compare all that with the emotional intensity and character revelation in this sequence:

Here is my argument for why Rob Roy is the best swordfight movie of all time, and why those duels in Errol Flynn movies never rise above standard flash and clash.

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Bob Anderson

Bob Anderson, who just died at the age of 89, was second only to William Hobbs when it came to staging swordfight scenes in films. He started out showing Errol Flynn how to swing steel in The Master of Ballantrae (1953) and stayed busy right up through Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. Along the way he choreographed the briefly glimpsed sword work in Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, along with the Antonio Banderas Zorro films (gotta love the idea of undressing Catherine Zeta-Jones during a duel — swordplay as foreplay) and the first Pirates of the Caribbean flick. At the time of his death he was back in Middle-earth for the upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit.

The clip up top features what is probably Anderson’s most beloved work, the duel between Inigo Montoya and Westley in The Princess Bride (1987), a perfectly shaped parody cum homage to the old clash-and-flash school of Hollywood swordplay. Another highlight was the bruising saber duel in the James Bond film Die Another Day, which you’ll find below.

For my money, Anderson’s finest work was the three-part duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back (1980). I first wrote about it as part of a series on what I consider the best movie swordfights of all time, and I still think it’s the jewel in Anderson’s crown, right up there with William Hobbs’ brilliant choreography in Rob Roy and Ryu Kuze’s almost hallucinatory climax in The Sword of Doom.

This is superb work: action revealing character every step of the way. It starts with Luke’s flashy, grandstanding challenge, and the insultingly casual way Vader activates his weapon in response. It continues as Luke throws everything he has at Vader, who keeps ratcheting the pressure on the young wannabe until the brutal final act, when Vader uses brute force to bring Luke to the brink of disaster. Though Vader’s costume was usually worn by the hulking David Prowse, Anderson himself donned the black visor for the fight sequences, simply to ensure that Mark Hamill (who wore no protective gear) wouldn’t get his head knocked off. Even when he was being a villain, Bob Anderson was a gentleman. Now that’s a class act!

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The sociopathic swordsman

“The sword is the soul. Evil mind, evil sword.” Those words, uttered by a foursquare and honorable fencing teacher in late 19th-century Japan, are at the core of The Sword of Doom, a 1965 samurai epic that stands out as much for its relentlessly downbeat tone as its beautifully composed dueling scenes.

The sword and soul belong to Ryunosuke Tsukue, a blank-eyed murderer who starts the film with the casual butchery of a defenseless pilgrim and goes on to dispatch at least a dozen more victims before a climactic bloodbath in which he cuts down what seems like a hundred frenzied opponents.

Though it is far from a satisfying film — there are long stretches of near tedium, and a cat’s cradle of unresolved subplots left dangling by the abrupt ending — The Sword of Doom has moments of greatness. In particular it has a fascinating lead performance by Tatsuya Nakadai, who plays Ryunosuke as a man who seems hollowed out by motiveless evil, reinforced by Ryu Kuze’s subtle and intriguing swordfight choreography.

If the first requirement of a great swordfight film is that its action sequences reveal character and advance plot, The Sword of Doom meets that requirement in a most intriguing way. Ryunosuke’s deceptively passive-looking technique is as gripping to watch as Archie Cunningham’s sadistic flash in Rob Roy. Instead of putting on a show of bellowing aggression, Ryunosuke lowers his blade and seems to have his mind on other things, drawing out his opponent and inviting an attack that he answers with blinding speed. It’s a technique that spooks the other swordsmen, who call it the “silent stance,” and even Ryunosuke’s dying father denounces him as a cruel and deceitful man. When Toranosuke Shimada (Toshiro Mifune), the only swordsman who seems capable of matching it, declines to fight Ryunosuke, it seems less a matter of fear than distaste — he almost seems to think contact with Ryunosuke will taint him, even if he wins.

One of the happiest surprises of watching Sword of Doom was the realization that I’ve been admiring Ryu Kuze’s dueling choreography for years without connecting him to particular films. He mapped out the swordplay in two of Akira Kurosawa’s most celebrated films, Yojimbo and its sequel Sanjuro, and he played a thug in Kurosawa’s Red Beard. He also choreographed the duels in Chushingura, Hiroshi Inagaki’s epic retelling of the story of the 47 loyal ronin, and ended his career with The Challenge, an above-average action flick released in 1982. That film climaxes with a close-quarter office duel between a master swordfighter and his hopelessly overmatched American opponent, who just barely wins the day through a combination of dirty fighting and blind luck. It’s a bruising, breathtakingly intense clash with interesting similarities to the finale of Sword of Doom, which erupts within the confines of a geisha house — triggered when Ryunosuke realizes that the woman sent to attend him is the granddaughter of the man he killed at the start of the film.

There is a strong sense of the supernatural running through The Sword of Doom, and at times Ryunosuke seems to be acting as the merciless hand of fate: his first attack comes in answer to an old man’s prayer for death, and his next comes during a kendo match in which his opponent (an enraged husband who has learned of his wife’s infidelity with Ryunosuke) makes an illegal attack. At times, Ryunosuke behaves honorably, taking in the widow of the slain husband (and enduring her complaints about their shaky finances), though he satisfies his taste for blood by joining a band of gangster samurai scheming to prevent the dissolution of the Tokugawa shogunate. This leads to one of the film’s greatest sequences, in which the massed samurai attack a kago they think is bearing a government reformer, only to find it is carrying Shimada, whose Olympian disgust proves almost as lethal as his sword. As Ryunosuke watches the carnage, there’s a brief shot in which his blade seems to trying to slip out of its scabbard by itself, which raises the question of whether the man or the sword is the true master. When Shimada, giving him a sidelong glance, utters the “Evil mind, evil sword” line, Ryunosuke reacts like a man who has been given a glimpse into his own soul — and found hell staring back at him.

The Sword of Doom was meant to launch a  series of films, based on a meandering serialized novel that rambled on for decades in Japanese newspapers. Presumably, the roots of Ryunosuke’s cruelty would have been explored in greater detail, and a long-simmering revenge subplot would have come to a satisfactory conclusion. But I’m not sure further chapters would have been an improvement. Personally, I think the closing slaughterfest, and the freeze-frame that ends the movie, are the perfect conclusion: a man hollowed out by violence and casual savagery, locked in a private torment that may never be broken.

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The best swordfight movie of all time

When people say “They don’t make movies the way they used to,” Rob Roy is the kind of movie they’re talking about. It’s also the kind of movie that makes you see they have a point. It’s a deeply satisfying adventure story, and not the least of its resolutely old fashioned virtues is a pair of swordfights that remain unmatched in film.

They are the masterworks of fight choreographer and swordsman William Hobbs, whose name has been praised throughout the first two installments of this series, and if you don’t want to take my word for it, listen to Roger Ebert, who called the final duel “one of the great action sequences in movie history.” Hobbs himself thought so highly of it that he made a chart plotting out all of the scene’s emotional beats the centerpiece of his book Fight Direction for Stage and Screen, and you can see the fight for yourself up top via the magic of YouTube.

The story, which is decidedly not drawn from Walter Scott’s novel of the same name, takes place in Scotland during the early 18th century, when the Scots-Catholic Jacobites were seething under the rule of Protestant England. The hero, Rob Roy MacGregor, incurs an unpayable debt to the local Marquis of Montrose and must contend with Montrose’s henchman, Archibald Cunningham, a smirking dandy who also happens to be a supremely dangerous swordsman.

Having seen John Hurt’s performance as the viperish Montrose several times now, I’d lay odds that this was the most fun he’d had since playing Caligula in I, Claudius, and Alan Sharp’s script gives him some great lines. (“We must never underestimate the healing power of hatred” is a particular fave.) But the top villain honors go to Tim Roth’s lethal fop, and it is the special glory of Hobbs’ work here that he gives Cunningham a pair of duels that combine dazzling bladework with character revelation, all while advancing the story and generating an impressive amount of suspense.

Our first glimpse of what’s in store comes during the first duel, a tavern exhibition match between Cunningham and the loutish Guthrie, champion of the local Duke of Argyll. During the pre-fight badinage we have already been given hints that there is more to Cunningham than meets the eye, and the duel proves it. Guthrie catches Cunningham off guard as he’s bowing to the presiding nobles, but from that moment forward Cunningham is in complete control of the situation.  Hobbs gives us a preview of Cunningham’s tactical skill, in which he uses the bigger man’s size against him by dancing inside his reach, steadily wearing him down and always keeping him on the defensive — even smacking him upside the head with the flat of his blade when Guthrie tries an underhanded move. We also get a glimpse of the taunting core of sadism beneath Cunningham’s finery. A quick kill (or, in this case, a swift victory) is the last thing Cunningham wants. His pleasure is to see fear, and the helpless awareness of defeat, in the other man’s eyes before he delivers the final blow. In an interesting twist, Guthrie rubs salt in his own wounds by trying to backstab Cunningham, dishonoring himself in front of his former patron and friends.

The bout with Guthrie gives us a framework for watching the climactic duel with MacGregor, with the added awareness that this is a fight to the death, with Cunningham administering extra doses of pain and humilation along the way: tricking MacGregor into swiping at thin air, slashing his torso and limbs as punctuation for each encounter.

Though Hobbs choreographed the fights, credit goes to director Michael Caton-Jones for the way it was shot and edited. When I saw Rob Roy in the cineplex, I left the film convinced Caton-Jones must be an Old Hollywood veteran, some old-timer from the studio era who knew how to shoot an action scene without attention-deficit-disorder editing. Imagine my surprise when he turned out to be a relatively young (in 1995, anyway) filmmaker with a television background and a highly variable catalogue: Scandal, Memphis Belle and This Boy’s Life on the high end, Doc Hollywood and Basic Instinct 2 on the low. I don’t know if Caton-Jones spent quality time with Errol Flynn movies before he shot Rob Roy, but his framing and editing of the fight scenes is impeccable. Take another look at that fight scene. We are always aware of each character’s position within the space, the framing is always correct — no unnecessary closeups or shock cuts — and the action unfolds in what feels like real time. Very often, Caton-Jones holds the camera still and lets the action speak for itself, an extremely rare virtue in modern filmmaking, and vital to a sequence in which the emotions of the combatants have been so carefully worked out.

No detail is wasted here. Even the choice of swords — a rapier for Cunningham, a broadsword for MacGregor — speaks to each man’s character and fighting style. Though MacGregor is bigger and stronger (Liam Neeson towers over Roth in their scenes together) Cunningham is in command of the situation right from the start. And when he starts holding his rapier tip directly in MacGregor’s face, we know what is about to happen. I can’t say the outcome of the bout was a big surprise, but the means that bring it about are, once again, fully in keeping with the personality of the winner.

Hobbs has gone on to choreograph fights for other films, most recently Lasse Hallstrom’s slapstick comedy about Casanova, but he has never topped his work for Rob Roy, and no swordplay in any other film I’ve seen comes close to matching Rob Roy. This, quite simply, is the way to do it right.

The second best swordfight movie of all time

To discuss a fight in musical terms, and to talk about its rhythms, will probably sound incongruous, and perhaps pretentious. However, possibly because of a vaguely musical background . . . I have often been conscious that most well-constructed fights have changes of rhythm and are ‘orchestrated’ in a way not unlike a musical score. For example, a fight may, like a piece of music, start in low key at a slow tempo and gradually gain in momentum and pitch, arriving eventually at the equivalent of a clash of cymbals. This can be followed, perhaps, by a period of uneasy calm shattered occasionally by phrases of ‘staccato'; the rallentando until the next crescendo, and so on until the final climax. Without this orchestration, or shape, a fight will not only run the risk of being excessively dull, but will probably emerge as an unorganized mess.

William Hobbs, Fight Direction for Stage and Screen (A & C Black, 1995)

In 1794, an officer in Napoleon’s army, a certain Captain Dupont, was given the task of informing another officer that his presence would not be welcome at a party held by their commander, General Moreau. The offending officer, Captain Fournier, already had a reputation as a bloodthirsty duellist, and had just killed a young man that day.

When Dupont faced Fournier with the bad news, Fournier directed his fury not at the general, but at his messenger. He immediately challenged Dupont to a duel; when Dupont inflicted an incapacitating wound, Fournier said “That’s the first touch.” The implication of that warning became clear a month later when the freshly healed Fournier challenged Dupont to another duel, this time sending Dupont to the surgeon. After a third duel that left both men wounded, Dupont and Fournier came to an agreement: any time they came within a hundred miles of each other, they would meet at a midway point for another duel.

Over the next 12 years, the antagonism of Fournier and Dupont became one of the stranger footnotes to the Napoleonic Wars, with the two men crossing swords numerous times while maintaining a regular correspondence — sometimes even dining together after a clash. The bizarre relationship was ended when Dupont, who was about to be married, proposed a final bout in which he and Fournier (now both generals themselves) would stalk each other through a wooded area, each man carrying two pistols (this was, remember, a time when a gun could only discharge once and and then had to be reloaded with great trouble). Though Fournier was a crack shot, Dupont tricked him into firing and missing twice. Dupont, who had not yet used his pistols, then advanced on Fournier and told him that if he wished to make another challenge, the weapons would again be pistols, only this time with Dupont entitled to fire the first two shots from a distance of three feet. Dupont was never troubled by Fournier again.

Joseph Conrad read a newspaper item about the long- running feud and used it as the germ for a short story, “The Duel,” changing the names of Fournier and Dupont to Feraud and D’Hubert. The story in turn inspired The Duellists, Ridley Scott’s 1977 filmmaking debut and our tied-for-second- place entry in this article about the best swordfight movies of all time.

The Duellists is, first and foremost, gorgeous to look at — astonishingly so, given that Scott had next to no budget with which to recreate the era. The film also doesn’t underline some of the most important elements of the antagonism. It takes a few viewings to appreciate the class resentment driving Feraud: a man of low birth, Feraud is a fierce Bonapartist who affects Napoleon’s bicorn hat and smolders with resentment against the royalists, of whom D’Hubert is an obvious example. Every frame of The Duellists could have been painted by either Theodore Gericault or Jean-Francois Millet, but the characters remain pretty ciphers. This is particularly the case with Feraud, played with a fixed bulldog glare by Harvey Keitel. When Feraud is forced to relinquish his obsession, Keitel — and Scott — cannot give us anything more than an inscrutable figure contemplating yet another ravishing landscape.

But the movie is tremendously significant for marking a decisive break with the old Hollywood flash and clash stuff. As Richard Cohen notes in his wonderfully engrossing book By the Sword, The Duellists was the first film in which lengthy swordfights became exhausting, bloody and painful. “I don’t want any of that old tosh,” Scott told his fight choreographer, William Hobbs, “I want it to be real.” And so it was. Our first view of Feraud at work leaves no doubt about his deadly skill: throughout the duel, he controls the ground around him while his opponent scampers about, trying to score a thrust. Once he has the other man’s measure, Feraud goes on the offensive so implacably that his opponent finally tries to buy time by clutching his blade. Not a good idea.

Scott’s history-on-a-shoestring approach is particularly impressive when he depicts Napoleon’s long retreat during the murderous Russian winter, when Feraud and D’Hubert — frozen stiff and barely able to hold their pistols — square off only to find themselves with an audience of visibly amused Cossacks, who can hardly believe these two crazy Frenchmen are about to do their work for them:

So why isn’t The Duellists the clear second-place winner? Because, with the exception of the initial bout between Feraud and D’Hubert and the opening duel shown at the start of this post, the film has no complete swordfight sequences. I’m not saying every bout should have been shown from start to finish — done that way, the film’s running time would have clocked in ahead of the entire Lord of the Rings series — but surely it would have been possible to give us a better sense of each man’s developing skill, and the newly learned tricks that would have added a new sense of danger to each clash. As I explained in the first installment of this series, swordfight scenes have to be more than simply flashy — they have to reveal character and advance the story. That’s why a flick like Scaramouche, while tremendous fun to watch, doesn’t rank as a great swordfighting movie. But The Duellists still commands a place of honor in any discussion of swordfighting in film, simply because of the fresh realism and honesty it brought to movies. The 1970s were years of innovation and ambition in many areas of film art, and choreographed swordplay was not the least of them.This series is largely a paen to the brilliance of William Hobbs, but his colleague Bob Anderson is a big part of the reason my choice for the second-best swordfight movie is The Empire Strikes Back, the first Star Wars sequel.

Unless you are A Moviegoer Of A Certain Age, it is hard to imagine the pleasurable shock delivered by The Empire Strikes Back when it opened in May 1980. The original Star Wars had been an exciting melange of tropes from Golden Age and pulp science fiction, stirred together by a filmmaker who obviously knew his way around the genre. (This was before George Lucas decided he had actually been channeling ancient myths with help from Joseph Campbell.) Instead of delivering more of the same, Empire turned out to be a grimly purposeful action adventure that burrowed deeply and unapologetically into the SF genre, aided considerably by workmanlike direction from Irvin Kershner and, most importantly, a story shaped with the help of Leigh Brackett, a bona fide SF writer who had also made her mark in Hollywood as a screenwriter for Howard Hawks.

The film is loaded with classic set pieces, such as the pursuit through the asteroid field, and the battle with the walking tanks. And Darth Vader, essentially a flunky in the original Star Wars, truly comes into his own as a villain with a sardonic sense of humor and private code of honor, subtly revealed in the way he treats Han Solo, a thorn in his side throughout the film, as a worthy opponent while giving Lando Calrissian, an operator who sells out a friend, the back of his hand.

But the reason Darth Vader lingers in the pop-culture memory bank as something more than a cool Halloween costume is his climactic duel with Luke Skywalker, the scene everyone had been anticipating for three years. As worked out by Anderson, a champion swordsman in his own right, the face-off is low on flash but high on storytelling value, for what Luke thinks is a fight is actually an audition, with Vader in control pretty much every step of the way.

The fight (telescoped by this YouTube clip) moves in three stages. At first, Vader hangs back and reacts as Luke throws his best moves at him, knocking back each sally until he is satisfied that the young wannabe has some basic skills under his belt. He then lays out the possibility of taking Luke under his wing, all while subjecting the sprout to more intense pressure and deadlier challenges. The third and final phase shows Vader abandoning finesse and going for sheer brute power, raising the intensity to the point that when Luke actually manages to land a hit, he is too terrified to follow through. This of course leads to the climactic revelation of Luke’s parentage, which may be the most referenced and parodied movie moment since Max Von Sydow played chess with Death in The Seventh Seal.

The duel was filmed over the course of five days on a set that was kept overheated to prevent the picturesque billows of steam from dispersing. The weapons were tubes of coated aluminum, strong enough to do damage if somebody bobbed instead of weaved. Since Mark Hamill would be fencing without any protection, while the actor playing Vader would have only limited vision, Anderson was brought in to make sure everything went right and looked good. Anderson did his job so well that the film’s big line — “I am your father!” — drew gasps instead of laughs. Certainly no other Star Wars film delivered a scene of similar quality. The closest the series came was the big fight that jolted everybody awake at the end of The Phantom Menace:

Ray Park has some pretty sweet moves on him, eh? Too bad George Lucas kept cutting around and diminishing the visual impact of the fighting. The same attention-deficit editing has undone some potentially classic sequences, such as the brutal sabre fight in Die Another Day.

Which brings us to the first place choice, a movie in which the swordfighting is the perfect blend of brilliant action, storytelling value and character revelation. See you in a bit.

The third best swordfight movie of all time

Yes, I know my legions of readers are anxious to see the next installment of my series on My Favorite Books, but I need to take time off for a moment to share something important with everyone:   

There simply aren’t enough great swordfights in movies.

This is an unacceptable situation. There are loads of movies with gunfights, but what is cinematic about people shooting at each other? People slashing and thrusting at each other with rapiers, sabers and broadswords — that’s cinematic.

There are plenty of pretty-good and good swordfight movies. Errol Flynn movies fall squarely into this category. The duels in The Adventures of Robin Hood are great fun to watch, but they fail the most important test of a great swordfight sequence: they don’t advance the story by revealing character through styles of swordplay. For my money the endless flailing around, while visually exciting, is interchangeable from film to film. (I once heard Basil Rathbone, who was classically trained and a good hand with a blade, complain that he constantly had to work to keep from injuring the untutored Flynn during their fight scenes.) In an action film, fighting style defines a character far more clearly than dialogue.

Cleverness isn’t enough, either. The strenuous stunt-fights in The Mask of Zorro (1998) are fun and ingeniously laid out, but with the exception of the duel in which Antonio Banderas systematically disrobes Catherine Zeta-Jones with deft strokes of his blade (wish I’d thought of that when I was single), they’re pretty much standard-issue action fodder.

Fighting styles are a big part of the appeal of The Three Musketeers (1973) and The Four Musketeers (1974), which were shot as a single film and released in two parts, which allows me to class both of them as my choice for third-best swordfight movie.

This is one of the most buoyantly entertaining movies ever made, certainly director Richard Lester’s best work apart from A Hard Day’s Night. (I’m no fan of his two cloddish Superman films.) It is also gorgeous to the eye, thanks to cinematography by David Watkins that makes almost every frame look like an Old Masters painting, and playful to the ear, thanks to a screenplay by George MacDonald Fraser (author of the Flashman series) that sparkles with wit as it stays as close as filmicly possible to the original Alexandre Dumas novel. In fact, The Three/Four Musketeers has one of the qualities that makes the Flashman series so good — it manages the difficult trick of saluting and lampooning heroism at the same time.

The Dumas novel (which tells the wonderfully, needlessly complicated story of how the Gascon bumpkin D’Artagnan joins the King’s Musketeers and helps foil Cardinal Richelieu’s plot against the Queen of France) had already been filmed a few times before Lester took his stab at it. The debunking spirit of the late 1960s and early 1970s had already produced revisionist Westerns like McCabe and Mrs. Miller, revisionist crime dramas like The Long Goodbye and revisionist historical dramas like The Charge of the Light Bridgade. Who better than Richard Lester to direct a revisionist swashbuckler? 

So in place of the stagey classical fencing techniques, perfect stances and Queensberry rules of the Errol Flynn movies, Lester and his fight choreographer William Hobbs turned the swordfights into brawls closer to the gang rumble in A Clockwork Orange than anything seen in The Sea Hawk or Captain Blood. Swords go clattering across floors, men trip over each other, and kicks in the crotch settle matters as often as crossed swords. These are fights involving professional men of action who use the means at hand to beat their opponents, and if the means at hand involve chairs, fists, knee and even wet laundry, so much the better. Whatever works.

The bruising practice bout between D’Artagnan and his father, shown beneath the opening credits, gives us a taste of what’s to come after D’Artagnan (Michael York) enters Paris and, seemingly within a five-minute period, is challenged to duels by three of the King’s Musketeers: Athos (Oliver Reed), Porthos (Frank Finlay) and Aramis (Richard Chamberlain). The arrival of the Cardinal’s guards at the duelling spot leads to a melee that makes D’Artagnan one of the boys, and lets us see the Musketeers in action.

Aramis appears to be the finest swordsman: he brushes aside sword thrusts with a mocking smile that hardly ever wavers. Porthos is fond of elaborate gimmicks: he cold-cocks his first opponent by tossing his blade in the air and smashing the distracted man across the jaw with a rock. (He then finds himself without a sword — a frequent problem with his tricky moves.) Athos uses his cloak as a flail to tangle the opponent’s blade or blind him before a rush. D’Artagnan is all youthful athleticism, playing cat and mouse between lines of drying laundry, then hoisting himself around a clothesline to knock an attacker flat.

Part of the charm is that even when the fighting turns serious and murderous, as it does whenever the lethal Rochefort (Christopher Lee) turns up, there is still a code of honor at work. Rochefort twice has the opportunity to kill D’Artagnan while he is unconscious, but he disdains to do so; likewise D’Artagnan, after besting Rochefort in a brilliantly staged battle in a night-shrouded forest, lets him lie rather than finish him off. In the DVD commentary, Lee is careful to note that he was the best swordsman in the cast, and he certainly handles his blade with an authority that makes him stand out amid the flying furniture and bodies. When he and Oliver Reed lock eyes amid the chaotic fight at the nunnery in The Four Musketeers, it’s one of the great badass moments in cinema, and their prolonged duel is a standout in a film loaded with great swordplay.                             

Hobbs himself appears as an apparent drunkard who transforms into a very sober and implacable assassin as soon as he draws Porthos into a duel. Reading his resume on the Internet Movie Database and taking in the range of styles used in each film, it’s clear that here is a man who understands film almost as well as he understands weapons, and is comfortable in many different modes: the laborious hacking and slashing of Excalibur, the crisply executed clashes in The Duellists and Dangerous Liaisons, the Errol Flynn parodies of Royal Flash.

It was no surprise to learn that Hobbs also choreographed the duels in my choice for the greatest swordfight film of all time, but before I get to that I have to talk about the second place film — a movie that couldn’t have less in common with The Three Musketeers, and which technically doesn’t even use swords, but is nevertheless a model of how to do it right.    

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