Wednesday, December 19, 2007

13 swordfights

In the spirit of the Thursday Thirteen meme, I offer thirteen superb movie swordfights in something like an ordering but not really in specific order. I just couldn't do that.

01. Sanjuro (English: Thirty-something [the nameless ronin who was Yojimbo (Bodyguard) has a new adventure]) (1962). The final duel. I could write ten thousand words about this duel and in the end I'd still just say: Watch it. Then, watch it again. Then in slo-mo. Then in frame-by-frame. Then again at full speed. This duel is quintessential iai. If you've never seen this movie, rent it NOW. You'll love it. If you don't, lemme know and I'll declare you non-human. After you watch it, tell me your favorite character. I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts on this.

02. The Princess Bride (1987). I am not left-handed either! I could quibble about specifics. Cary kind of "rabbits" a bit. They both drag their trailing foot some, Boris-Karloff-mummy style. Blah, blah. But why quibble? It's an exquisitely-crafted duel. I love it.

03. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). Arthur and the Black Knight. It's only a flesh wound! No more need be said.

04. Zatoichi to Yojimbo (English: Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo) (1970). I had to include one Zatoichi movie of the coupla dozen in the series and I like this one a lot. The eponymous duel. This is a list of swordfights, so that's what I'll reference here; but my actual favorite scene in the movie is when Yojimbo fools Zatoichi about how high up the stairs he is during the fire. Making fun of a blind guy! What could be more enjoyable?

05. Scaramouche (1952). The duel in the theater. You killed my brother. Big mistake. Lots of actual, valid fencing information given during Stewart Granger's training scenes.

06. Basil Rathbone vs. Errol Flynn. Pick one, any one. I'll go with "Captain Blood" cuz it's set in the Caribbean and I love the Caribbean. Basil was generally acknowledged as the best fencer in Hollywood in his era but he usually played the antagonist so he always lost the movie duels. Of course Errol Flynn was quite the swordsman, too, but in a different sense of that word.

07. Shichinin No Samurai (English: Seven Samurai) (1954). Fencing master vs. obstinate guy. Oops! Guess the fencing master was right. This is the sine qua non of movies. One of my all-time favorites. Exquisite.

08. The Wind and the Lion (1975). El-Raisuli vs. the German cavalry officer. An overlooked movie which I find simply completely delightful. Prepare to charge the palace! If you've never seen it, give it a try. Sean Connery and Candace Bergen are wonderful, Brian Keith does a great Teddy Roosevelt, and Steve Kanaly and the U. S. Marines charge the palace.

09. Myamoto Musashi trilogy, specifically # 3, Ketto Ganryujima (English: Duel on Ganryu Island) (1954-6). Bokken against katana. It's based on what is probably an actual even, so that makes it kinda cool. Very tense.

10. Mark of Zorro (1940). Basil Rathbone vs. Tyrone Power. Two competent fencers making it look absolutely fierce on the silver screen. Rumor has it that the director simply told them to "go for it" and the death should happen at *that* spot. However it was choreographed, it's a good one.

11. Three Musketeers (1921). Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., the Jackie Chan of his era. Supreme physicality.

12. Three and Four Musketeers (1973). Duel on the icy river. From the cinema verite school of gritty realism where the duellists actually get tired and are clumsy at times. I like it and these are great popcorn movies. Raquel Welch ain't too hard to look at, either.

13. Yojimbo (English: The Bodyguard) (1961). I need three coffins… Make that four. Not really a great swordfight per se but the iconic tone-setter of what constituted ubercool for its generation. When remade as "Fistful of Dollars" this character established Clint Eastwood's persona and career.

Ok, that's thirteen, although I could go on. If you have something you'd like to propose or recommend, please lemme know. For the sake of clarity, I'll state some guidelines for your responses/submissions:

1. "Swordfight" is to be considered an inclusive term, not exclusive. Any edged weapon counts, as do sci-fi or fantasy energy weapons which approximate, simulate, or emulate cutting, like lightsabers or forceblades.

2. Having read the previous paragraph, you may be having an "Aha!" moment and are preparing your submission of your favorite duel from the Star Wars series. Unless it's something involving Darth Maul, lemme advise you to forget it. I'll listen to an argument for Darth Maul because he moves like a competent weapons guy but all other Star Wars bladework is crap IMO. Go ahead and submit, if you feel moved to do so; but be prepared for a scathing critique in response.

3. All my selections were sword-related. I can think of a coupla interesting knife fights which would be good possibilities, based on my expansion of the definition of *sword*(fight) to include things other than swords per se. Also, I love Jackie Chan and think he's the nonpareil movie combat guy of the twentieth century; but offhand I can't think of a swordfight of his which I found worthy of inclusion here. Maybe you remember one that I don't. That'd be cool cuz Jackie Chan is the shits!

4. Ok, having harshly stated my disdain for the bladework in Star Wars and having threatened you about submitting a duel from that series, lemme abjure my rabid statement in section 2. Go ahead and send your favorite Star Wars duel, if you feel compelled to do so. I promise I won't dump on your delusions choices. I loved 4, 5, and 6. The less I say about 1, 2, and (please, sweet Jesus, spare us!) 3, the better.

Frank (fencer, kenshi, iaidoka)


  1. Great list. I agree completely. Happy TT.

  2. Yeah, well none of your swordfights have a cool electronic swishy noise, so, so, so THERE! :P
    You had me skewered at 02. then you had to go add yer StarWars poopiness at the end. Darth Maul doesn't count as StarWars anyway (just a bad dream we're so kindly sharing with George - though I love the one purple sabre...), so it's Vader VS Kenobi (the fighting sucks because Ben *has to* let DV win or else the rest of George's story doesn't work!) as the ultimate SW match. Or not. :D

  3. re: 06. Basil Rathbone, is it:

  4. Ok, darlin',

    I accept your submission of Vader-Kenobi as a possibility. (Damn! It's difficult to be magnanimous! [grin])

    And as for Mr. Rathbone, Americans always call him Bazzle while the English say Bay-zil. He was English; but he lived in America. Fielder's choice?

  5. you gotta see this!

  6. Now, THAT is a great swordfight! I love it!