Bandit of Sherwood Forest

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Black Arrow

Black Arrow
Rating: ****
Origin: USA,1948
Director: Gordon Douglas
Source: Columbia Pictures DVD

The Black Arrow

Say, this is good. Based, somewhat loosely, on Robert Louis Stevenson’s 1888 novel, it compresses and abridges but gets the essence right. This is another of producer Edward Small’s swashbucklers starring Louis Hayward, a story of the War of the Roses in which Hayward plays one of the victorious Yorkists, Sir Richard Shelton, returning home after the defeat of the Lancastrians. He pauses to drink at a stream, and a black arrow thuds into a tree next to him—an arrow wrapped with a note in rhyme from a mysterious “John Amend-All,” warning him of treachery ahead. And in fact, Shelton arrives at his home estate to find his father has been murdered, a crime blamed on a neighboring Lancastrian noble, now executed—but survived by a spirited daughter, Joanna Sedley (Janet Blair). More black arrows arrive with rhymed warnings and clues, and gradually Richard realizes that there was something fishy about his father’s murder. Interestingly, we know whodunit from the start: Richard’s grasping Uncle Daniel (George Macready), whom we see meeting with his three accomplices to pull the wool over Richard’s eyes. Following the clues of the black arrows leads Richard to a gang of outlaws in nearby Tunstall Forest, a band already deliberately evocative of Robin Hood’s in Stevenson’s novel, the similarities emphasized even more here. The rest of the story is about how Richard, with the help of Joanna and “John Amend-All,” learns the truth—and what he does about it.

If the sets look familiar, it’s because we’ve seen them before in Bandit of Sherwood Forest and Prince of Thieves, and will see more of them in The Swordsman and others to come. Hayward’s Sir Richard is one of his best performances, and Macready does good work as the villainous uncle, but Janet Blair as the heroine deserves special notice. Blair, a big-band vocalist who had a second career acting in the movies, is sharp and spicy, and her byplay with Hayward is delightful. Kudos also to Lowell Gilmore, suave and malicious, as the slightly-hunchbacked Duke of Gloucester—yes, the eventual Richard III. And though the film’s budget is modest, veteran director George Douglas keeps the action spare and tight. Douglas made several swashbucklers, and we’re always glad to see his name in the credits; you may know him best as the director of the sci-fi classic Them! (1954).

By |2018-02-11T17:24:36-05:00December 16, 2017|Cinema of Swords, Ellsworth's Cinema of Swords|Comments Off on Black Arrow

Bardelys the Magnificent

Bardelys the Magnificent
Rating: ***
Origin: USA,1926
Director: King Vidor
Source: Flicker Alley DVD

Flicker Alley DVD

Here is another adaptation of an early novel by Rafael Sabatini, a book revived like The Sea Hawk in the wake of the worldwide success of Scaramouche. Its star, matinee idol John Gilbert, was riding high at the time, and was paired here with the hit-making director King Vidor, best known for The Big Parade and (much later) Duel in the Sun. The setting is France in 1632, midway through the reign of King Louis XIII, who is putting down the last major revolt of rebel Prince Gaston. Gilbert plays the Marquis de Bardelys, an elegant Paris playboy who excels at romantic conquest, his seductions fueling the gossip and petty scandals of the French Court. Bardelys is one of King Louis’s spoiled favorites, and rivals with another favorite, the supercilious Comte de Chatellerault (in a delicious mustache-twirling performance by Roy D’Arcy). When Chatellerault tries and fails to win the hand of a provincial heiress, Bardelys mocks him, and is then maneuvered into accepting a challenge to win her himself—much to the displeasure of the king, played with epicene preciosity by Arthur Lubin. Against the royal wishes, Bardelys sets off into rebellion-torn Languedoc to win the hand of Roxalanne de Lavedan, whom he’s never even met.

Complications ensue, and after a couple of far-fetched coincidences, Bardelys ends up recovering from wounds in the Château de Lavedan, but under an assumed name, that of a slain rebel and traitor. Once he meets Roxalanne, Bardelys finds himself in true love for the first time, but faced with wooing Mademoiselle de Lavedan under a false name while being hunted by royal troops. There follows a tangle of honor and dishonor, spies, jealous rivals, secret vows, betrayals, athletic escapes, and a fine climactic duel.

John Gilbert is genuinely charming and charismatic as Bardelys, and fortunately the smart and spirited Joan Boardman is cast opposite him as Roxalanne. They play well off each other, and their scenes together are the best in the film, especially the famous episode in which Gilbert woos her in a sun-dappled boat drifting through a long screen of trailing willow branches. Sadly, everyone else in the picture hams it up outrageously, which I guess we have to blame on King Vidor’s direction. One caveat: this film was thought lost for decades, until a single copy was discovered in Paris in 2006. It’s been magnificently restored except for several scenes in the middle of the film that had to be reconstructed from stills and the shooting script. That, and the fact that almost everything in this movie is strictly to formula, is what keeps it from being a four-star film. Lurid visual bonus: skull-faced priests with sinister pointy-cowled monkshood minions!

By |2018-01-02T21:06:17-05:00December 16, 2017|Cinema of Swords, Ellsworth's Cinema of Swords|Comments Off on Bardelys the Magnificent

Bandits of Corsica aka The Return of the Corsican Brothers

Bandits of Corsica aka The Return of the Corsican Brothers
Rating: ***
Origin: USA,1953
Director: Ray Nazarro
Source: Amazon Streaming Video

The Bandits of Corsica aka The Return of the Corsican Brothers

This overlooked film is often described as a remake of the 1941 Corsican Brothers, or as based on Alexandre Dumas’s short novel of that name, but it’s actually a full-fledged sequel that stands on its own. Producer Richard Small had done well with low-budget sequels to his Count of Monte Cristo, so he tried the same trick with his Corsican Brothers, and with some success. It’s strictly to Small’s now-familiar formula, drawing heavily on elements of its predecessor and from Small’s similar Son of Monte Cristo. So it doesn’t cover any new ground, but it’s pretty enjoyable nonetheless, thanks mainly to the charm and intelligence of its star, Richard Greene—the same actor who would make such an indelible impression later in the decade starring in the title rôle of the Adventures of Robin Hood TV show. In some ways, this film can be regarded as an extended screen test for that part, with its engaging and clever hero, the fugitive noble Mario Franchi, leading a band of outlaws in a desperate fight against tyranny.

But this is yet another double-lead-rôle swashbuckler in which Greene plays not just Mario Franchi, but also his separated-at-birth twin brother Lucien, who, through his psychic connection to Mario, lives a tormented double life. Greene bases his tragic Lucien on Douglas Fairbanks, Jr.’s haunted performance in the 1941 film, and carries it off admirably. Set five years after the prequel, once again the Franchi brothers pit their doppelgänger hijinks against a ruthless aristocrat who wants to rule all Corsica, in this case Raymond Burr in the rôle of evil Baron Jonatto. Burr may not have the wicked gusto of Akim Tamiroff, the villain of the first film, or the urbane arrogance of George Sanders in Son of Monte Cristo, whom he’s clearly emulating, but he seems to be making an effort, and is more lively than usual. Better is his brutal lieutenant, Nerva, played by a young but steely Lee van Cleef, who often sneeringly steals the scene from his stolid boss.

Count Mario has a comely but helpless countess (Paula Raymond), whose function is to be loved hopelessly by Lucien when she’s not being held captive by Jonatto. The plot is the standard mix of midnight raids, impersonations, abductions and escapes, villainous ultimatums, vows of vengeance, and a guards-oppressing-the-people montage, spiced with amnesia, Gypsies, a secret passage, and a dungeon torture chamber, all climaxing in a perfectly fine four-way sword fight. A well-worn tale, but solidly executed, and worth it for Greene and van Cleef.


By |2018-02-11T17:22:51-05:00December 16, 2017|Cinema of Swords, Ellsworth's Cinema of Swords|Comments Off on Bandits of Corsica aka The Return of the Corsican Brothers

Bandit of Sherwood Forest

Bandit of Sherwood Forest
Rating: **
Origin: USA,1946
Director: George Sherman and Henry Levin
Source: Columbia Pictures DVD

Bandit of sherwood

The aging Robin Hood, for twenty years now the Earl of Huntingdon, rides into Sherwood and blows a horn to summon his old comrades. Mounted bandits with bows come riding out of the woods, waving their weapons, all galloping, gathering, scores of them…. Geez, there are more horse archers in Sherwood Forest than the Mongols had in the Golden Horde. Once assembled before Huntingdon, the earl reveals that he’s called them all together … for exposition! The King of England is a child, a royal regent governs in his name and is convening a meeting of nobles, where the earl suspects he wants to revoke the Magna Carta! But don’t worry, Huntingdon has sent for his son Robert, so thanks for galloping, Merrie Men, now go chill for a day or two.

Huntingdon arrives at the meeting of nobles, and as soon as he sees that the regent is played by Henry Daniell, he knows the deal is going down. In short order the Magna Carta is rescinded, tyranny is ascendant, the regent plots to usurp the throne, and the uncooperative Earl of Huntingdon is banished. And the next day Robin Hood is back in Sherwood, organizing the resistance.

This movie is pretty standard Robin Hood fare, the kind of thing we’re going to see a lot more of between now and 1960 or so. The twist this time is that the older and now silver-haired Robin (Russell Hicks) is relegated to the background, while his son Robert (Cornel Wilde) takes point handling the derring-do. Young Robert is virile and active, but kind of an arrogant jerk at first, trouncing the older Merrie Men while sparring, snatching kisses from unwilling ladies, and being a general show-off. But really, Robert just needs a serious challenge, like saving the young king from the unscrupulous regent, and he’ll straighten right out—especially if he listens to that smart lady he stole the kiss from (Anita Louise), because she’s going to save his neck when he gets captured and thrown into the Nottingham Castle dungeon. Fortunately, Nottingham Castle has the worst postern gate security protocols ever.

So this picture’s not bad, but it has this weird and unexpected flaw: it keeps forgetting it isn’t a Western. The extras all sound like cowboys, everybody has horses and gallops everywhere riding Western style (there’s so much riding), and it’s clear that the cast and crew, who were making a Western just last week, are really looking forward to getting out of the green tights and making another Western next week. At least there’s a final duel between Cornel Wilde and Henry Daniell, with their giant shadows fencing across the castle wall behind them. Because traditions, after all, must be upheld.


By |2018-02-11T17:22:27-05:00December 16, 2017|Cinema of Swords, Ellsworth's Cinema of Swords|Comments Off on Bandit of Sherwood Forest
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