You don’t have to read many of my posts to know that The Princess Bride is pretty well my favorite movie. And though I love the sword fighting scene between Wesley and Iñigo, and the later one between Iñigo and Count Rugen, they are not actually my favorite sword fighting scenes. In both cases, it’s really the dialogue that makes the scenes memorable. So what movies would I rank above The Princess Bride in sword fighting wonderfulness?
Here they are, in the order in which I thought of them.
The Three Musketeers (1973, directed by Richard Lester)
One of the great things about this movie, along with its sequels The Four Musketeers, and The Return of the Musketeers, is that they all feature the same cast. There are good fight scenes in all the films (Oliver Reed is more impressive in the sequels), but it’s the first one I know the best. I particularly like the fantastic opening sequence, where D’Artagnan’s father teaches him the “secret thrust.” Anything between D’Artagnan (Michael York) and Rochefort (Christopher Lee) is well worth watching. There’s also some terrific ensemble fighting, notably the scene between the four leads and the Cardinals’ Guard in the convent courtyard. It should be noted that Christopher Lee was a fencer IRL as well.
The fencing instructor and fight choreographer was Bob Anderson.
Cyrano de Bergerac (Jean-Paul Rappeneau, 1990)
I’ve enjoyed many a Cyrano, starting with the Jose Ferrer one, but this, with Gerard Depardieu in the title role, is the best. The great thing here is that Cyrano is supposed to be a fantastic swordsman, and you really get the feeling that he is. I also find the fighting a little rougher, and I wonder if the more rough-and-tumble fighting of the Musketeers movies could account for that, or whether it’s just the modern approach.
The Maitre d’Armes was Michael Carliez
The Adventures of Robin Hood (Michael Curtis and Wm Keighley, 1938)
Captain Blood (Michael Curtis, 1935)
I count these two together, as most if not all of the sword fighting took place between Errol Flynn (as the good guy) and Basil Rathbone (as the bad guy). The fight on the staircase in Robin Hood is iconic, and has been imitated a couple of times. I don’t know who the fight co-ordinator or fencing master was for these two films, but it’s a shame he went uncredited. I know there were earlier cinematic sword fights, but for me, this is where it all began. Basil Rathbone was also a fencer IRL.
Man in the Iron Mask (Randall Wallace, 1998)
Dumas revisited. I think it lacks the humor of Richard Lester’s Musketeers movies, but it still has some beautiful sword play. Again, the ensemble scenes are terrific. Gerard Depardieu we know from his role as Cyrano, but the other musketeers, Jeremy Irons, Gabriel Byrne, and John Malkovitch are all marvelous.
No specific credit is given for fencing master, but Yannick Derrien is cited as “stunt master.”
Count of Monte Cristo (Kevin Reynolds, 2002)
This is the film with Jim Caveizel as the good guy, and Guy Pearce as the central bad guy. There’s not as much emphasis on the sword play in this movie as some of the others, but what’s there is prime, especially the last fight, where the bad guy gets it.
This film also has as its Maitre d’Armes Michael Carliez, here called “fight coordinator.”
It’s impossible to talk about sword fighting in movies without mentioning Bob Anderson (1922 – 2012). Of my list, he was only involved in Lester’s Musketeers movies, but he was a legend in the business, and we’ve all seen plenty of his work. Here’s just a few of the movies he worked on as fencing teacher:
Star Wars (Episodes IV, V and VI)
The Princess Bride
The Lord of the Rings
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Violette Malan is the author of the Dhulyn and Parno series of sword and sorcery adventures (now available in omnibus editions), as well as the Mirror Lands series of primary world fantasies. As VM Escalada, she writes the upcoming Faraman Prophecy series. Find her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @VioletteMalan.