Saturday, January 4, 2014
The Black Shield of Falworth (1954)
The Black Shield of Falworth is a visually gorgeous medieval romp, released by Universal in 1954. It was Universal’s first CinemaScope feature.
The plot is pretty standard for this kind of movie. A peasant boy and his sister are really of noble birth but for some reason that fact has to to remain hidden. The boy, Myles (Tony Curtis), is sent to Mackworth Castle to be trained as a squire. The Earl of Mackworth (Herbert Marshall) obviously knows something of Myles’ secret. Myles soon proves himself to be quarrelsome and impetuous but a born fighter. Much to his surprise he finds himself being trained for knighthood.
Of course Myles has an enemy at Mackworth Castle, in the person of Walter Blunt (Patrick O’Neal), the arrogant younger brother of the Earl of Alban (David Farrar). It soon becomes obvious that the Earl of Alban himself is really the major villain. The Earl has some kind of hold over King Henry IV and it is he rather than the king who is the real power in the land. Prince Hal (Daniel O’Herlihy) suspects that the Earl has even more sinister designs in mind and pretends to be a drunken buffoon in order to ensure his own survival.
Of course Myles falls in love, with the Earl of Mackworth’s daughter, the Lady Anne (Janet Leigh). And of course their love is impossible, Myles being (apparently) just an obscure farm boy.
As the plotting of the Earl of Alban continues Myles’ danger increases. He will however unexpectedly find himself at the centre of great events in the course of which the mystery of his birth will be revealed.
The relative thinness of the plot doesn’t really matter. It’s all just an excuse for lots of sumptuous photography (by Irving Glassberg), spectacular sets, beautiful costumes and the inevitable action climax.
That climax, when it does come, proves to be worth the wait.
OK, so Tony Curtis does at times sound like a Jewish kid from the Bronx. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that he makes a perfectly fine romantic action hero. And he does not say, “Yondah lies da castle of my foddah.” He does not say it in this film, nor in any other film.
Janet Leigh’s acting capabilities are not exactly stretched to the full but she does get to wear some ravishing costumes (although I doubt that a lady in the early 15th century would have sported very bright red lipstick). Herbert Marshall at least sounds English, because he was. The supporting cast are all quite adequate with Torin Thatcher being the standout as the gruff but honourable Sir James who puts Myles through some very tough knightly training.
The movie was helmed by Rudolph Maté, an outstanding cinematographer turned director. He certainly knew that his job wasn’t to make a masterpiece of the cinematic art, it was to make a fun movie while taking the maximum advantage of the CinemaScope aspect ratio and the Technicolor photography, and he does this very competently indeed.
It goes without saying that any resemblance between this movie and historical fact is very slight indeed. And that’s the way it should be. It’s not a history lesson, it’s just a movie.
Eureka’s UK DVD release sports a superb anamorphic transfer. The colours are absolutely luscious. There are no extras but the very reasonable price tag makes this a good buy for fans of this type of movie.
The Black Shield of Falworth is somewhat campy but thoroughly entertaining cinematic fluff. I enjoyed every minute of it. As long as you’re not tempted to take it at all seriously there’s no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy it just as much. It’s good clean harmless fun. Recommended.