Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thursday Romance - Sword of Lancelot (1963)

Oh, Lance, Lance, Lance... Haven't we been over this again and again and again? When are you going to learn that that woman ain't nothing but trouble for you? Plus, she's just gonna mess up that great bromance you've got going on with Arty.

Yep, it's time to revisit one of the all-time great love triangles. One that has, I think, endured for so long because of the number of issues that it raises and the way that it resolves them. Which is more important: a man's love for his king or his love for a woman? Which will win out: a king's devotion to the rule of law, his devotion to his wife, or his devotion to his best friend and good right hand? What is the ultimate cost of betrayal? And in this particular version, just what kind of a man is it that actually uses soap?

Sword of Lancelot actually began its life as a British production co-produced, co-written, directed by, and starring Cornel Wilde called Lancelot and Guinevere. (The name change was made for its American release.) Wilde even hired as his "loveliest of all queens" his then-wife, Jean Wallace. Brian Aherne assays the role of Arthur, one he had played quite a few times before, and Michael Meacham rounds out the cast as the villainous Mordred.

The story skips Arthur's early years, and moves right to the heart of the story, presenting him as an older king in the final processes of consolidating his kingdom. He has also decided that it is time to take a bride in order to produce a legitimate heir to take the place of his illegitimate son Mordred. In pursuit of both of these goals, he has sent a request to a rival king that he acknowledge Arthur as the King of all the Britons, and that he send his daughter, Guinevere to be Arthur's Queen. Instead of accepting Arthur's demands, the king challenges him to a duel of champions and says they will let the right of might determine who is to be the true king. Lancelot, of course, jumps at the chance to defend his kings honor, and in a great jousting tournament scene, Lance defeats the king's champion, thereby winning the beautiful lass for his king. Unfortunately, she may prove to be more than he, or the king, can really handle.

Sword of Lancelot uses a number of interesting touches to make it's Camelot a very interesting place. Briton is a land just on the edge of civilization, and this is shown in many ways, but perhaps one of the most interesting is the introduction of soap! When it is first mentioned, one of the nights has spied Lancelot lathering up, and he fears the knight has taken ill and foam is pouring from his body. Once Lancelot arrives at the meal table, he is greeted with fear and astonishment, but he soon explains that what the young knight saw was a gift given to him by Merlin that is used for cleaning called soap. Of course he is roundly mocked by all the manly men at the table for smelling like  woman. However, when he later shares some of his soap with Guinevere she too is at first astounded and then somewhat fearful that, since it came from Merlin, it might be magical - even cursed!

Nor is Guinevere your typical fainting maid. Even on the way back to the castle, before meeting her husband-to-be, she shows her strength and courage by dispatching with a single sword stroke one the the band of brigands that has attacked her traveling party. Of course, this show of fearsomeness and resolve, while making her an even better fit to be queen, also raises her esteem in Lancelot's eye. Which, while in general a good thing, in this instance? Probably not.

Overall, this is a pretty good interpretation of the story. All of the players play their parts well, and while there are no real surprises, there are no disappointments, either. The fight scenes are well carried out, and have a good sense not only of drama,  but of pacing.

Ok, courtesy of Video Detective, here's a trailer: (Unfortunately, you'll probably have to sit through a short commercial to get to it, but it was the only one I could find.)

And the Skinny:
Title: Sword of Lancelot
Release Date: 1963
Running Time: 116min
Starring: Cornel Wilde, Jean Wallace, Brian Aherne
Directed by: Cornel Wilde
Produced by: Cornel Wilde, Bernard Luber
Distributed by: Universal-International Films

Sword of Lancelot is available to watch or download for free here.
It's also available on DVD from Amazon: Sword of Lancelot.
And finally, Netflix has it available for rent: Sword of Lancelot.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian


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