One of my favorite very old films is "Captain Blood" starring Errol Flynn, Olivia deHavilland and Basil Rathbone. It's the story of an English doctor who is arrested for saving the life of a rebel to the Crown and gets sent to a penal colony in the Caribbean. He leads a prisoner rebellion, becomes a pirate and eventually becomes the Governor of Jamaica. Oh, and he gets the girl.
(Trivia: This was the first pairing of Flynn and Rathbone. They would go on to have more sword fights in the classic "The Adventures of Robin Hood" with Olivia de Havilland as Maid Marian). Flynn was an unknown at the time, and despite his goofy haircut, this film set him on his way to stardom.)
It's a very moody film, and like many movies of the 30's its art direction is very stage driven, many of the compositions are based on traditional painting conventions. I supposed some of that tendency comes from the fact that the bulky cameras of the day were much less mobile than modern cameras, so most of the visual drama depended more on composition.
This is one of the opening shots where a messenger arrives at the door of Doctor Peter Blood (cool name, huh?). Notice the warped perspective:This shot is a bit on the nose, but cool nonetheless:
Here we get one of the first shots of Errol Flynn as he looks through the window in the door. We see him behind bars. It's not his entrance shot, but close enough to make a statement.
The Dr. Blood goes to get dressed, while the messenger turns around to tell the lady across the street what's going on. It's a fairly lame set-up for exposition. We all know he's really talking to us. But the screen composition is still very cool. Note how they made sure there are foreground elements to enhance the feeling of depth.
Soon the patient is brought in (near death) and the good Doctor works in very dramatic lighting:
And once he saves the poor chap, the authorities enter right across that huge space left open in the frame for them.
This motif of creating a space in a shot, then filling it with character entrances is used a lot in this film. It's a cool style. They create a composition that doesn't look empty, yet use that open space for dramatic purposes.
I'm going to post some more frames later. This is such a great old film to watch. Every shot is very beautiful. (Yes, the storytelling is a bit stilted and slow by today's standards, but it's still a good yarn).