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No consensus yet.
All Critics (1)
| Fresh (0)
| Rotten (1)
Feb 7, 2011
| Rating: C+
| Full Review…
The character of Prince Valiant was created by Hal Foster back in 1937. A long running comicstrip all about the adventures of a Nordic Prince in Arthurian England which had a semi realistic tone. This movie is an adaptation of that comicstrip although I'm not overly sure how close to the original source material it is. Nevertheless it is clear to see that both director Henry Hathaway and Twentieth Century Fox wanted to recapture the visual spectacle and overall glory that WB gained from their Technicolor masterpiece 'The Adventures of Robin Hood'.
The plot is fairly simplistic in its fairytale manner. The Viking kingdom of Scandia is captured by viking rebels led by Sligon, forcing the royal family into exile (King Aguar and his family). Years later, once Prince Valiant has grown into a man, King Aguar sends Valiant to Camelot so he may become a full knight. Of course its not all plain sailing as Valiant stumbles across a secret meeting between the (not so) mysterious black knight and the very rebel vikings that exiled his family back in Scandia. So now not only must Valiant struggle with the rigors of squirehood under the tutelage of Sir Gawain, he must also figure out who the black knight is, what he's up to, and try to convince King Arthur and his knights that his story is actually genuine. Ah the general trails and tribulations of a young, hot-headed Prince in tights, can Valiant overcome all this and complete his families quest?
I think the main eye catching thing about this Technicolor marvel is errr...the marvellous Technicolor! Yes indeed if you enjoy the sight of overly colourful knight attire, colourful flags, banners, royal robes, rolling green hills, fairytale castles and an overall, incredibly cliched view of olde worlde England, then this is the film for you. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not having a go at the visuals here, oh no, in fact they are the best part of the film by far. Its not any real surprise that many of these old Technicolor/Cinemascope flicks were generally all spectacle and plot-lite, or plot simplistic. The stories often basically revolved around a brave, bold, good looking hero saving the damsel in distress, whilst killing off the dastardly, rotten baddie in the process. All in time for a happy ending wrapped in a big red romantic bow. You didn't watch these films for the stories, you watched them because they were a visual feast, a bright, happy, glorious visual feast that literally jumped off the screen in your face. Admittedly these lovely visuals were quite often completely inaccurate or at best, completely nonsense, but you knew to never take them as fact. The studio's quite often took a very light-hearted, whimsical, olde worlde, fable-esque type approach to enhance the action, adventure and romance. Not every time mind you, but in most of these swashbuckling flicks the visuals tended to lean more towards good looking fantasy with elements of realism, rather than hardcore realism.
For a start this movie is an adaptation of a comicstrip, so essentially what do you expect. Of course back in the day these films were taken quite seriously as the equivalent of modern day blockbusters with flashy effects. The youngsters came for the swashbuckling, the ladies for the dashing hero in tights, and the men for the action and pinup actress that would portray the damsel in distress. But I don't think they were ever taken deadly seriously like an epic drama. Anyhow you can clearly see the similarity between this movie and the Errol Flynn flick about some bloke named Hood. Visually its almost bloody identical! All the knights seem to be wearing the exact same gear, the castle interiors are the same (although how different could a Hollywood version of a British medieval castle be?), the actors portraying knights look like the same people (generic facial hair can do that), and the characters are along the same lines (again, generic). Heck there's even an outdoor scene of jousting that pretty much looks the same as the archery tournament, accept for the jousting of course. Of course the main difference here is the fact we see knights fighting vikings and exterior shots that are suppose to be Scandia in Scandinavia (presumably a different location in and around California, to that which they filmed for Camelot).
One major difference I did notice was the actual use of actual various castles around the UK for external shots, which generally looked pretty good. Again admittedly they didn't quite blend with the obvious sequences shot in sunny California but its not too jarring. I did appreciate these location shots though because the Errol Flynn Hood movie didn't seem to use any authentic locations at all, they seemed to rely more heavily on matte paintings and locations solely in America, and its obvious. Its actually a really glaring issue with that movie, considering its held in such high regard its actually quite amazing. Where as this movie is by far the lesser of the two, you never hear about this movie or its cast, yet it looks way way more authentic with the real locations.
Speaking of that jousting scene, its easily the best part in the film. The whole sequence does look very realistic (and overly colourful of course), it really appears as though they did perform actual jousting here. Its nothing to get your pants wet or anything but its certainly rousing enough and did look genuinely dangerous for the stunt guys. There is little else action wise for the most part accept for the odd scuffle with knights, a bit of gymnastics as the hero bounds around, and a reasonable finale battle against the viking horde. This final set piece is pretty impressive with the fire effects, or how they controlled it, again it all looked quite dangerous and realistic, especially around the obvious flammable sets. Yeah sure the whole thing is rather predictable and formulaic, the goodies storm the castle while Valiant escapes from his cell within the baddies castle (long story that isn't very complicated, you could probably guess it). Lots of long-horned, helmet clad vikings running around looking like savages with dirty beards, all being rather ineffective against Valiant and his heroism as he leaps around like Kermit the Frog on extra strength Red Bull. Its all looks solid enough as said but eerily similar to other movies of the era, its almost as though they all use the same sets, maybe they did?
As for the casting, well its a mixed bag really, generally I wasn't familiar with all of the players, but the main focus was the legendary James Mason of course. In all absolute honesty, most of them were much like this film, generic and bland, but looked great in their medieval garb. Robert Wagner definitely had the bod for this role, and the looks, but his American accent kinda fucks things up a bit, whilst his acting basically sucks. Sterling Hayden as Sir Gwain was pretty sweet, his ballsy, gruff, no nonsense manner being amusing and charming at the same time. Again he also had an accent issue which is kinda amusing. But of course Mason stole the show as the mysterious but completely obvious treacherous baddie Sir 'made up for this movie' Brack. Not too sure why they didn't actually use a real knight of the time like...Sir Ywain the Bastard, no I'm not making that up. It is totally hilarious how obvious it is that Mason is clearly the black knight, the first line of dialog he speaks you can tell, yep Mason's the bad guy. No surprise at all because Brits always play the villains and Mason clearly looks and sounds like the villain from the get-go.
In the end this movie is certainly a good time, even when it becomes a tad dull you're still engaged because of all the lovely imagery. Yeah there are plenty of silly moments which could be put down to mistakes or inaccuracies. I liked the scene where no one believed Valiant over his claims about Brack and the entire plot, so a duel ensues between Brack and Valiant. Valiant naturally wins, but because Valiant wins a duel, now everyone believes him? He could still be lying you know. I also liked how the baddie viking leader Sligon had his throne up against a curtain in his castle. Very convenient for the plot to stab him from behind huh! You'd think the King would have put more thought into where his throne would sit, like not so anyone can come up behind you and kill you. But yeah I can't complain really, the film was made in 54, things were different, times were simpler, but the visuals were stunning no doubt. If you like these grand old historical epics then you can't go wrong here, it has everything you would expect but just lacks a bit of kick and a really big, stand out star in my opinion.
Endearingly laughable old school Hollywood swashbuckler complete with silly wigs, pseudo olde worlde dialogue and pantomime villains.
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