The Sword of Lancelot,
a.k.a. Lancelot & Guinevere

directed by Cornel Wilde
(Universal, 1963)

King Arthur, although newly made king, is unusually old. There are, of course, the usual anachronistic weapons and armor. And there is an odd fixation on soap, its qualities as an aphrodisiac and Lancelot's personal hygiene.

Despite that, The Sword of Lancelot, a.k.a. Lancelot & Guinevere, is a fairly good entry in the ranks of Arthurian films ... although it certainly shows its age, particularly in its treatment of Guinevere as a siren ruled only by her heart.

The movie stars producer-director Cornel Wilde as Lancelot, and he certainly is the focus of the action at all times ... whether acting the charming lover, the conflicted friend or the fierce soldier.

Much of the film is dominated by Lancelot's victory over the Saxons -- a fine battle scene, so far as movies of that era go, although Lancelot's valor is a bit disappointing. When the Saxons begin killing the men and raping the women of a conquered village, Lancelot doesn't sweep down with his army to save them. He creeps away to plot an attack once the villagers are all dead or discarded. Militarily sound, perhaps. Valiant and noble, not at all. Also, the movie would have us believe that drunken Saxons would fail to hear the sound of an entire forest being cut down around them.

And Lancelot neglects to consider that giving his colors to an untried soldier to wear would make him a target for all of his foes ... or that carrying the dead man home in those colors might lead people to believe Lancelot himself is dead.

Arthur is played by Brian Aherne as a kindly, elderly man who doesn't get wrapped up very much in the action. Unfortunately, he never develops beyond being a two-dimensional figure. Jean Wallace's Guinevere, although getting more screen time, is likewise limited -- more drama queen than Arthur's queen, living by the whims of her fickle heart. Her only break from character is an inexplicable thirst for Arthur's death at the end.

Fine performances are given by George Baker and Archie Duncan as Sir Gawaine and the hearty Sir Lamorak. Iain Gregory is a charming, naive Sir Tors, Michael Meacham is a typically sinister Modred and Mark Dignam is an admirable, if underused, Merlin.

Far too much of the climactic ending, including Arthur's death, takes place off-screen. The fight choreography isn't exceptional, but it's certainly better than some I've seen since. And the final battle is very well-enacted, employing a large cast to stage an impressive melee.

In the end, this won't stand among the finest of its genre, although devotees of classic romance and tragedy will find this to their liking.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 8 September 2001

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