Sunday, August 27, 2006


I haven't seen many King Arthur movies; offhand I can only recall EXCALIBUR, LANCELOT OF THE LAKE, and MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL. This one, from early in the widescreen era, seems to have inspired at least a couple of moments of satire in the Python film. It suffers today from some slow stretches, but it is colorful with good sets and costumes and a couple of fine swashbuckling scenes (though it certainly is nowhere near Errol Flynn's ROBIN HOOD for total adventure enjoyment). It also might be one of the first comic book movies, based as it is on a long-running comic strip created by Hal Foster which began in 1937 and is still running in many Sunday papers today. A very youthful Robert Wagner plays Valiant, a Christian Viking prince who, as the film opens, is in exile at an isolated abbey in England with his family, including his father, the rightful king of Scandia, hiding from the pagan King Sligon. Loyal Viking warrior Boltar (Victor McLaglen) warns the family that a traitor may have let Sligon and his troops know where they are hiding, so Valiant heads to Camelot to become a knight in order to gain the experience needed to take his father back to Scandia to reclaim his throne. On his way, he has a run-in with the Black Knight, who is in the process of massing Viking troops on his side for some wickedness. After King Arthur (Brian Aherne) and the Knights of the Round Table agree to help Valiant, he is mentored by Sir Gawain (Sterling Hayden) and also catches the eye of Sir Brack (James Mason), Arthur's bastard brother, who may know more about the Black Knight than he's telling. The lovely Princess Aleta (Janet Leigh) falls for Valiant, and her sister (Debra Paget) falls for Gawain, but Gawain gets the signals crossed, which provides a little romantic tension before Valiant's father is kidnapped, the Black Knight is unmasked, battles are fought, and buckles are swashed. The climactic swordfight between Valiant and the Black Knight is well done. Wagner looks a little silly at first in his page boy hairdo, but it grows on you, and otherwise, he's good in a role that mostly just calls for youth and energy. Hayden is a little wooden in his line readings, but Mason and Leigh are fine. [FMC]

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