This was the first Douglas Fairbanks Senior film I've seen, and I have to say, when I saw the first shot of Mister Faribanks, sitting on the floor, legs covered in a blanket, stupid grin plasted across his pudgy face, I thought to myself, "what? This is Douglas Fairbanks Senior? This is Errol Flynn's predecessor? This guy? He looks like he's mentally handicapped." And my opinion of him didn't really change until the first real swordfight scene, which occurs about half an hour in. And I was expecting some fun if vaguely tedious gentlemanly fencing of the "what ho! Sorry about that chap!" variety, but what I got was so ferocious and intense and suddenly it all made sense. "Of course he has a pudgy face - if it was any leaner, you'd lose all that animalistic fury." He swings that sword like he's never taken a Stage Fencing lesson in his life - sometimes it looks like he's actually trying to bash his opponent over the head with it. Watching this pudgy, pompous fool explode into a whirlwind of angry energy, overcoming his enemies through sheer force of will, that is cinematic escapism at its finest.
Sure, the film itself is far from perfect - the characters are all two dimensional, the bad guy telegraphs his evilness all the way across the English Channel (at one point he actually pets a pussy cat - who knew that cliche went this far back), the symbolism is so ham fisted it would be comic if it wasn't so annoying, the plot makes no sense. But none of these problems matter, really, because watching Fairbanks explode, it is a sight to behold. Errol Flynn could never do that. For one thing, he was too well trained.
Actually, the problem of the terrible symbolism, that one does matter a little. It was really, really terrible.