Arthur Part 4: A Moving Arthur

© 2005 Jeff Lynch


Mel Ferrer and Ava Gardner in 1953 in ‘The Kights of
 the Round Table’.
It also stars Robert Taylor &
Baker. A stolid production!

Robert and the smashing Lizzy (in Ivanhoe)
Can you hum a tune from Camelot whilst you read this little piece? I All I can think of are the lyrics………..and happily ever after…….. hereeee in Cammmmm…. elot! Terence Hanson White was very grateful to receive a handsome payment from Broadway producers of Camelot, for the rights of his wonderful ‘The Once and Future King’. He was able to see out the remainder of his life with a few extras and continue to work without a dateline, because of the musical staged in New York, New York! Of course this work was in it’s turn, translated into the film ‘Camelot’, starring Richard Harris and he silky Vanessa Redgrave. There will be a nod to this delightfully wistful and silly work at the close of this article. However, now to the other moving Arthur showings!

Richard Wagner & Janet
Leigh in the 1954 ‘ Prince
Valiant’. Debra Paget,
James Mason, Sterling
Hayden, Brian Aherne &
Victor Mclagen are also
in this ripping tale.

It is very disappointing for me to have to say that I have never seen what may well be, the best motion picture ever made on an Arthurian theme. I fancy myself a little as they say, on the subject of film. I do not like the title film buff but being a hopeful romantic, I have never been weaned off films since I started seeing them at the Sandringham Roxy cinema, some 58 years ago. However this is a French film made in the French language made by Robert Bresson, if that is any excuse at all. It was made by Bresson in the year 1976! Well they do say that honesty is worth a bob or two, do they not. I wonder if they are right. In any case I haven’t seen it and of course I can’t be sure if it is the tops eh! Possibly any cover of Arthur and film should start by admitting that with rare exceptions, neither the young or old king, lovers or betrayers and magicians have been treated very well by producers and directors. I have been told that one of the near worst efforts was made only a year ago and ‘Arthur’ has died a quiet death together perhaps, with the extremely slender actress Viera Knightly who has also ill timed a performance in another ‘Pride and Prejudice’ film in this year of 2005. The photograph above is from the 1953 Hollywood film ‘The Knights of the Round Table’. Ava is looking her very best as Guinevere, before those days of wine and roses will tarnish her slightly. It is made in a new widescreen technique and in wonderful colour. So well may you ask, why is the photo here shown in black and white? Here is Mel Ferrer, fresh from the giant Hollywood hit ‘Lili’ with the young Leslie Caron, of French origins and California fame. He is playing Arthur to Ava’s Guinevere. The dashing Lancelot is played by the slightly aging and well, almost dashing Robert Taylor, who had seen eleven years worth of water go under ‘Waterloo Bridge’.
My wife states emphatically that Robert is a ‘wooden’ actor and in all honesty, I cannot disagree. He was fresh from the most knightly film ‘Ivanhoe’ made in 1952, with Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Fontaine. My trusty guide gives but two and a half stars to the Mel, Ava and Robert show but I know indeed that close attention in story line was made to the Thomas Mallory tales of dubious origin!* This defaulting to the medieval telling is fairly rare in film and particularly in Hollywood productions, and perhaps it should at least be remembered despite all its lacklustre showing, for that very reason. ‘The Knights of The Round Table’ was directed by Richard Thorpe. It must be said too in passing, that the 1952 Ivanhoe is not a great cinematic event either, despite the presence and work of the young Elizabeth Taylor.

Scenes from Excalibur

Scenes from Excalibur
One of the best American efforts in Arthurian films was undoubtedly John Boorman’s ‘Excalibur’, made in 1981. Boorman was on a pretty good run here for he had made ‘Deliverance’ in 1972 and ‘The Exorcist’ and Heretic in 1977 with the strange flop, cum cult film ‘Zardog’ squeezed in between these in 1974.The above scene is from a love scene in a forest; Helen Mirren is the woman pictured (which rates the film for nudity) and is not really representative of this dark, lively retelling of the more magical aspects of the Arthurian epics. It stars Nicole Williamson, Nigel Terry, Helen Mirren and Corin Redgrave. I remember the fine film score so very well, which borrows heavily from superb excerpts from Richard Wagner and the stunning work by Carl Orff from ‘Carmina Burana’. Some people find his film confusing and confused but it is actually a fine operatic interpretation of ‘Morte D’Arthur by Mallory. It has many fine performances from the actors and is a realistic, dark compelling tale of power, lust and downfall in the true tradition of the old Arthurian tales! At least Boorman’s film takes Mallory’s tales seriously and only gives them an extra dark colouring, influenced again by Alfred Tennyson’s verses.

An image from the 1940’s comic strip Prince Valiant
 created by the brilliant Hal Foster. In this image
Valiant dreams of Aletia whose heart he wins!

Henry Hathaway directed the 1954 film ‘Prince Valiant’ which is a mixture of camp fun and a serious big screen 1950’s colour, with a gem of a cast and grand music by Franz Waxman. Valiant is shown as a Viking prince from Thule, whose wish is to join Arthur’s band of knights in England’s Camelot. This is precisely Foster’s own plot and shows that the brilliant comic strip artist had some inkling of Arthur’s earlier legendary backgrounds. His story told in comics, is fairly translated to screen with a few Hollywood ramp ups and in general the film while not comparable to say, the 1936 Adventures of Robin Hood or even Scaramouche, it is indeed a lot of fun. But Hollywood had now trawled around the edges of Arthurian literature since the days of silent features and little art had appeared from this seemingly endless stream of inspiration. When somebody in Broadway production recognised the worth of ‘The Once and Future King’, it seemed that eternal hope might be alive. Alas it was to be a musical. It was left to Walt Disney to do a fairly hum drum cartoon version of ‘The Sword in The Stone’. Admittedly it was fairly good musical, although I cannot hum through even one song from the same! ‘Camelot’ the film, was made in 1967, based on Whites stories and with songs and book by Lerner and Loewe. At the helm was a fine director in Joshua Logan. In 1956 he directed two fine movies, ‘Picnic’ and ‘Bus Stop’. After “Camelot’, Logan made ‘Paint Your Wagon’, a far more consistent film musical! Camelot earns 3 stars in the trusty bible, but some think it worth closer to 2! It is a bit silly, but ultimately glorious for costume and an Australian John Truscott received an Oscar for it’s costuming. Also impressive was colour and the weepy ending. I cried at the last chapters of White’s book, for the undoing of the ménage a trois and the unravelling of the kingdom is a too human (and common) event. Just so does it translate to screen! You will remember that Richard Harris braggarts and glances his fine way through scenes, and songs with little music talent, but he still is convincing. Vanessa Redgrave has hardly seemed better and Franco Nero, Italian cowboy star, was there at least for display! These were also well backed up by David Hemmings and Lionel Jeffries who plays Sir Pellinore who has a fairly large role in the White books.

Well time goes by while you are watching the flicks and I have just learnt that a film called (once again) ‘The Once and Future King’, is to be released next year (2006).The White books are so tender, endearing, knowledgeable and full of wisdom of the understanding of human foibles and temptations that a great filmmaker could produce a masterpiece with art and money. The history of Arthur and Art in films suggests that this will not happen in the coming year, but I have my fingers crossed that I am completely wrong.



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