Directed by Richard Thorpe (The Honeymoon Machine), the new Warner Archive release is one of many retellings of the King Arthur legend, complete with the sword Excalibur and the Holy Grail. It’s neither the worst nor the best movie to tackle such rich subject matter, but for whatever reason, this production strips out all instances of the supernatural in order to shovel on the maximum amount of romance.
A pinched-performance Robert Taylor (Ivanhoe) stars as Lancelot opposite the lovely Ava Gardner (The Killers) as Guinevere, the apple of his eye, but she’s newly hitched to Arthur Pendragon (Mel Ferrer, The Longest Day). Occasionally, the movie engages in battle scenes that kill many (“They fall like apples in a gale!”), but it’s the love triangle that informs the majority of the story. They’re decked to the nines, of course, amid extravagant production values. It’s as if the filmmakers were so busy readying the look of the picture that they forgot to give the same attention to the script.
While your eyes dart about the screen in a “Look at this! Look at this!” fashion, your ears notice how dull it all sounds. A typical two-person exchange:
“Hold firm, you old blusterer!”
“My lord, I’ve blustered my last bluster. Say, was I such an uncouth knight after all?”
“You were as goodly a knight as I have known.”
Ah, well. At least the rousing climax offers a nighttime swordfight up and down the exterior levels of a castle. End-scene cameo by God.
The MOD DVD boasts a sizable amount of extras — unusual for a Warner Archive release. Ferrer gives viewers a brief introduction, calling Knights “a really beautiful picture to watch” (but note, not listen to), and a black-and-white newsreel of the film’s premiere on a very windy night offers interviews with a seemingly annoyed Debbie Reynolds, a drop-dead-gorgeous Rhonda Fleming and, escorted by Santa Claus, glamorous future game-show hostess Elaine Stewart.
While I would have preferred a documentary on the subject, a text feature takes you through the history of Arthurian legends on film, with trailers to three examples: this, the new-to-Blu Camelot and John Boorman’s fine Excalibur. Finally, there’s a nine-minute short, also in CinemaScope, in which the MGM Symphony Orchestra plays the overture to The Merry Wives of Windsor. I can imagine today’s audiences rioting if theaters dared play such a thing. —Rod Lott
Hey! Read This:
• Camelot: The Complete First Season Blu-ray review
• Excalibur Blu-ray review
• The Honeymoon Machine DVD review