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!