Tag Archives: Batman

Darkman, A Comic Book Superhero Movie That Never Was a Comic Book

 

Sam Raimi has a few franchise films worth noting. A really popular horror franchise and a really good comic book superhero franchise come to mind. (Evil Dead…Spider-Man) But there was a time he did a mash-up before mash-ups became a thing…with 1990’s Darkman series.  Starring Liam Neeson as the Darkman in the title, along with Frances McDormand, Ted Raimi, Colin Friels and Larry Drake, it’s a wonderfully creative tale and works as a superhero movie, comic book movie and a horror at times. Liam, Frances and Larry all give great performances. I wish they would come back to this series as it’s a fun one, maybe as a future TV show like they did with the Evil Dead series.  darkman-wallpaper

Sam Raimi originally wanted to do a movie of the famous “The Shadow” series, could not obtain the rights, so came up with his own movie similar to that one and called his character, Darkman. He also Drew inspiration from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, Batman, The Invisible Man and The Elephant Man. When they went into production he wanted to cast his production partner up until that time, Bruce Campbell, but the studio he was working with didn’t think he was good enough to sell the movie. For the role of Darkman, Sam Raimi wanted someone who could play a monster with the soul of a man. An actor who could do all that beneath a lot of makeup.darkman-2

Bill Paxton was almost cast as Peyton Westlake (Darkman). According to Paxton, he told his friend Liam Neeson about the audition. When Neeson got the the role, Paxton was so angry that he did not speak to Neeson for months. Some of Darkman’s elements were inspired by Batman. Liam Neeson worked 18 hour days in ten-piece makeup, but he liked the challenge, and the idea of working behind a mask on camera, as well as exploring the possibilities this entailed. Neeson also had input on the costume he wore as Darkman, especially the cloak. The hardest part was speaking with false teeth, because he didn’t want them to move at all.  Sam Raimi is a fan of the Batman character, and was among those passed over to direct Batman (1989). Larry Drake and Liam Neeson would later work on Batman Beyond: The Winning Edge (1999) and Batman Begins (2005) respectively.darkman-pic

Larry Drake was cast because of the way he underplayed Durant. Quiet, careful, but intense. Sam Raimi had never watched a single episode of L.A. Law (1986), where Drake played the developmentally disabled Benny (I believe he won an Emmy award for this role and if you’ve seen him in this, he’s awesome!). But Drake’s face reminded him of a modern day Edward G. Robinson. He looked so mean and domineering, yet he had an urban wit about him. Raimi believed these qualities made him the perfect adversary for Darkman.darkman-larry-drake

Douglas Fairbanks and the Mark of Zorro

 

The genesis of the word “swashbuckler” had its start with this movie. Douglas Fairbanks was the original “adventurer”, and he performed most of the stunts in his films himself. He was an excellent athlete and used his physical abilities to his best advantage. However, there were instances when a stuntman was used (as proved by outtakes from The Gaucho (1927)), as these types of stunts were deemed too risky for the star.zorro-still

Fairbanks’ prodigious athletic prowess and tremendous enthusiasm made this movie a great success, leading to a whole series of similar swashbuckler roles for Fairbanks, including The Three Musketeers (1921), Robin Hood (1922) and The Thief of Bagdad (1924). Fairbanks’ astonishing acrobatics amaze even modern audiences, particularly in the climax of The Mark of Zorro. A sequel, Don Q, Son of Zorro, with Fairbanks reprising his role as Don Diego and also playing Don Diego’s son, Don Cesar de la Vega, was released in 1925.

Interesting to note, Fencing master and graduate of the Military Institute of Physical Education and Fencing (Belgium), Fred Cavens was responsible for bringing style and technique to the duels in Hollywood films. His first work on a Hollywood film was in this movie and he became a Hollywood staple throughout the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. He did a lot of the fighting in this film as well as train Douglas Fairbanks to play Zorro. He also went on to train Guy Williams, Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power.zorro 2

The Mark of Zorro was directed by Fred Niblo for Douglas Fairbanks Pictures Corporation, released by United Artists and features Douglas Fairbanks as Zorro. The Zorro costume of black clothes, black mask, and round black hat that audiences know today was introduced in this film rather than in the original short story, and McCulley dressed Zorro in that outfit in his many subsequent Zorro stories in imitation of Fairbanks’ fantastically popular film. Also, Fairbanks’ acting exerted a tremendous influence upon later actor Burt Lancaster, as Lancaster frequently mentioned, and modern audiences can’t help but note this in Fairbanks’ first scene as Zorro, in which a surreally huge smile is accentuated.

I also think it’s very interesting to mention that not only was Douglas Fairbanks the physical basis for both Superman and Batman, this film was also the movie that Bruce Wayne and his parents went to see when they were killed in the alley, as mentioned in comic book history of the Golden Age.mark of zorro1920

Things to look up (click on item to go to IMDB):

Glossary of stunt terms as defined by Wikipedia:

  1.  Swashbuckler – Swashbuckler(a.k.a. swasher) is a term that emerged in the 16th centuryand has been used for rough, noisy and boastful swordsmen ever since. A possible explanation for this term is that it derives from a fighting style using a side-sword with a buckler in the off-hand, which was applied with much “swashing and making a noise on the buckler”. Later the name “swashbuckler” (like Gunslinger) became common for an archetype and the accordant special film genre.

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