Wednesday, April 30, 2014


In 1191, King Richard of England (George Sanders) leads a loose-knit group of European royalty, soldiers and mercenaries on the Third Crusade to free Palestine from the Muslims—here referred to as Saracens—currently ruled by Saladin. The hot-headed Scot Sir Kenneth (Anthony Harvey, at right) is a thorn in Richard's side, though Kenneth soon becomes his trusted aide—but Richard does not know that Kenneth is in love with the King's cousin, Lady Edith (Virginia Mayo). Richard leads the Crusade in name, but there are pretenders to the position, including Sir Giles (Robert Douglas) who hires a marksman to kill Richard using a Saracen arrow. The assassination attempt is foiled when Richard is only wounded, and he winds up being attended to by Emir Ilderim (Rex Harrison), a Saracen physician sent by Saladin himself, who is fascinated by Christian ideas of chivalry. Ilderim talks of a world of tolerance in which Christians and Muslims can co-exist peacefully, and we soon discover that Ilderim is actually Saladin himself in disguise. He develops a crush on Lady Edith and he also realizes that taking a Plantagenet as a bride could cement a relationship with England. But Saladin will not take Edith against her will; can he turn her attentions away from Kenneth? Can he make Richard accept him? And will Sir Giles be able to whip up enough support to topple the King?

Setting aside completely the historical aspect, there are many bad things about this movie, but let's start on a positive note. This is a spectacularly colorful movie, with every color of the rainbow in evidence throughout. I would say it's an example of Technicolor at its best, but it was filmed in a process called Warnercolor. Still, every frame looks fabulous and that reason alone almost makes it worth seeing. Anthony Harvey is good as the Scottish hero; he's also quite fetching, even if his long blondish hair and brown outfits make him look like a cowboy. And Rex Harrison, under brownface (pictured at left with Harvey) acquits himself nicely as Saladin. Sadly, almost everything else about this movie winds up in the minus column. The dialogue is leaden, most of the other actors are serviceable at best, and the pace is sluggish; even the supposedly rousing action finale seems to go on forever. I usually like George Sanders very much, but he is hopelessly miscast—he can do snarky, cynical, sinister, and even quietly heroic, but he's not robust royal material, especially the Action King type. The fact that he gets the best of young Harvey in a joust is unbelievable. Based on a Sir Walter Scott novel called The Talisman. [Warner Archive streaming]

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