Cornel Wilde directed, co-produced, & starred in Sword of Lancelot (1963), & obviously strove to make it a bit more adult than most Arthurian movies.
Cornel is a fine actor whether in costume films like At Swords Point (1952) or a classy film noir like The Big Combo. But I'm afraid I found him a little crusty (being already in his fifties) to play Sir Lancelot, a character I've always imagined as a young knight.
His attempt to fake a French accent sometimes slips into more of a Brooklyn accent. And in this particular film, he manages somehow to look enough like Tony Curtis to be difficult to take seriously.
But Cornel had real skills as a swordsman & has put a good deal of thought & heart into the fight choreography for lance, sword, axe, & mace.
On at least two occasions, the realistic injuries from medieval combat made me gasp with horror, & that degree of brutality must have been even more gasp-inducing in 1963 when grue was so much rarer at the movies. A brain-cleaving early in the story, & the lopping off of shoulder & arm near the end, would never pass muster in a "family" film even today.
Tourney costumes for horses & men are beautiful. The story is familiar from Mallory & scads of imitations, with relatively few innovations of plot.
On the journey to bring Guinevere to Arthur at Camelot, she & Sir Lancelot fall in love. When ambushed enroute, Lancelot is impressed to see Guinevere using her own sword, even if a bit prissily, & she even saves Lancelot's life.
At Camelot he strives to keep away from her & not betray Arthur whom he loves. But Guinevere is annoyingly persistent in wanting to cuckhold her husband.
Modred (Michael Meacham), Arthur's bastard, makes good use of the information when he learns of their regular trysts, for he does not wish Arthur to have a legitimate son as true heir from Guinevere.
Lancelot flees from Camelot but returns to save Guinevere from being burned at the stake. War breaks out in England between Arthur & Modred, while Arthur holds siege to a castle in which Lancelot & Guinevere have set up an uneasy housekeeping marred by guilt.
Lancelot is eventually banished to France. Guinevere goes into protective custody of the Glastenbury nunnery.
While Lancelot is in exile, Merlin (Mark Dignam) commits suicide for loss of Vivian (Adrienne Corri), & Arthur is slain by Modred (events told to us, not shown).
So Lancelot returns to avenge Arthur's death, & to attempt to reclaim widowed Guinevere from the convent.
There are some interesting smaller stories at the periphery of the main plot, including the bravery of young Sir Tors (Iain Gregory) so poor he had no suitable armor; the anger of Sir Gawaine (George Baker) against Lancelot for the accidental slaying of Sir Gareth (Richard Thorp); & so on.
But as romantic leads, there's no particular magic between Cornel Wilde & Jean Wallace. She's a little on the appalling side failing to make her lusty feelings for Lancelot view like more than slutty disinterest in repercussions. And of course he's got that nurdy fake accent with which to whine about his own loss of honor & traitorous behavior.
It doesn't help that Arthur is cast quite well on in years, in order to make crusty Cornel not seem too old for this role, & as Arthur, Brian Aherne is barely adequate, while Merlin is hardly more than a background decoration.
Fortunately the battle sequences are way better than average so we don't have to rely only on the love story for a full measure of entertainment.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl