THE MAJOR SWORDFIGHTING FILMS OF WILLIAM HOBBS, BY PERIOD
THE MISTS OF AVALON (2001)
ROBIN HOOD [Patrick Bergin] (1991)
ROBIN AND MARIAN (1976)
CAPTAIN KRONOS: VAMPIRE HUNTER (1974)
DANGEROUS BEAUTY (1998)
SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE
THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1974)
THE FOUR MUSKETEERS (1975)
THE RETURN OF THE MUSKETEERS (1989)
CYRANO DE BERGERAC (1990)
THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK (1998)
ROB ROY (1995)
DANGEROUS LIASIONS (1988)
THE DUELLISTS (1977)
THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO (2002)
THE CRIMSON PERMANENT ASSURANCE (1983)
THE AVENGERS (1998)
FLASH GORDON (1980)
William Hobbs, Swordmasterby Paula Katherine Marmor
Even the most dedicated fan of swashbucklers might be forgiven for not realizing that the brutal broadsword work in Robin and Marian, the athletic bravura of the Richard Lester Musketeer films, the bloody dismemberments of John Boorman's Excalibur, and the exquisite 18th-century small sword duel between the Vicomte and Danceny in Dangerous Liasions were all staged by the same swordmaster.
His name is William Hobbs, and he is the first of our Living Legends.
One for All, and All for One ...
I learned the name William Hobbs in 1974. The theme of Filmex (the lamented Los Angeles International Film Exposition) that year was "Swashbucklers," and the exposition opened with the world premier of Richard Lester'sThe Three Musketeers. The official premier showing sold out immediately, and a second late-evening screening was scheduled by popular demand. And so there we were, in a faded movie palace late at night in the heart of tinseltown, in crowd made up entirely of die-hard adventure-film fans, sitting astonished through what is defensibly the most accurate-to-period swashbuckling romp ever filmed. That dedicated audience gave the film two unexpected spontaneous ovations: one for D'Artagnan's full-tilt ride across the sunset on the road to Calais, and one for the screen credit that read "Fight Arranger - William Hobbs."
Those of you who memorized that Three Musketeers may remember Hobbs: he played the "drunken" assassin at the Inn who challenged Porthos, dueling with a sword in each hand.
Of the final duel between Tim Roth's Cunningham and Liam Neeson's Rob in Rob Roy, Roger Ebert said, "Strange. I thought I had seen enough sword fights in movies to last a lifetime, but I was wrong... The sword fighting sequence, staged by William Hobbs, is the best of its sort ever done. Here we get the sense of the deadly stakes, and the great physical effort involved... the duel seems like a chess match in which thought counts for more than action. It is one of the great action sequences in movie history."
On this one point I find myself wholeheartedly agreeing with Ebert: the climatic duel in Rob Roy is the single most astonishing swordfight this fanatic has ever seen on film.
"General Feraud has made occasional attempts to kill me. That does not give him the right to claim my acquaintance."
Hobbs also arranged the fights for a rarer gem, Ridley Scott's first feature, The Duellists, from "The Duel" by Joseph Conrad. The story of a long-running feud between two Napoleonic officers (Harvey Keitel and Keith Carradine), the film is a sequence of grudge matches, played out with swords and with pistols, on horseback and in the snow, fight after fight after fight. It's a perfect illustration of Hobb's mastery of period combat combined with a deep understanding of what does and doesn't work for the camera and the audience. This is a keeper.
Like most other professionals, Hobbs has his bag of tricks and
recognizable quirks; his swordplay, especially, is not to everyone's taste
and is certainly not in the rollicking tradition of
fighting-down-the-staircase a la Flynn and Rathbone.
But for my money he's
the best stage combat artist around,
and it's a privilege to be able to
make his name more widely known.