Monday, September 30, 2013

The Medieval Films

When the air fills with the sweet scent of crisp fallen leaves and the land is a-ripe for harvesting, thou knowest that autumn is come. Ay, and verily, upon the wings of this beautiful season comes the soft breeze of Reflection. We recall to mind days of yor, days of simpler times in the past. My mind, upon these merry days, wanders serenely amongst the ancient lands of Britain, when knights were bold and adventure was to be had merely by strolling through a shady glade. And so, methought it may be pleasant to seek for some jolly pictures that tell, in robust fashion, tales of adventure, merrymaking, love and the good times to be had these days of yor. Surely, many a picture hath been made.... Forsooth, tis true!

So, without more ado, here we present to share with thee the most popular moving pictures that were set in the merry times of the medieval era. But first, what years constitutes the medieval era, thee asketh? That be a fair question and well do we know that many a scholar has been confounded by what other folk may consider a proper answer, but it seemeth to us that the great battle of Hastings be a good mark as any as to when the medieval era began, and the birth of that right lusty fellow, Henry VIII, be as good a closing mark as any. In simpler words, 1066-1490 A.D. Yea, truly these be the prime middle ages... when the kingfolk were fat and unruly, the peasants merry and poor, the men stout and strong, and merry England was filled with the breathing spirit of a people... idle and content to be so.

Prythee read further, if thou be so inclined:

The Crusades ( 1935 ) - Cecil B. DeMille's film was one of the earliest epics to be set in the medieval ages. Aside from a few major silent film productions, most screenwriters stood clear of the Middle Ages because box-office sales for this genre had never been too well received. DeMille changed that status and created a medieval pageant of spectacle with The Crusades. Richard the Lionheart sets off on his holy wars and falls in love with the Princess of Navarre, Berengaria, en route. Loretta Young and Henry Wilcoxon star. 

A Connecticut Yankee ( 1931 ) - Will Rogers starred as the rambunctious yank in this adaption of Mark Twain's classic novel "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" about a mechanic who bumps his head and finds himself in Arthurian Britain. It was remade as a color musical with Bing Crosby in 1949. 

Romeo and Juliet ( 1936 ) - William Shakespeare's immortal tale of young love was brought to the screen in this beautiful MGM production starring Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer. George Cukor as director, Cedric Gibbon set designs, and a supporting cast featuring Basil Rathbone, John Barrymore and Edna May Oliver all combine to make this a superb film. It was remade in color for Zeffirelli's stunning 1968 version of "Romeo and Juliet".

The Adventures of Robin Hood ( 1938 ) - There be no finer medieval film than this... A perfect cast, magnificent color cinematography and a scrumptious Max Steiner musical score highlight this entertaining swashbuckler featuring Errol Flynn ( sigh! ), the lovely Olivia de Havilland, Claude Rains, Alan Hale, Basil Rathbone and Patric Knowles. The film went on to win three Academy Awards and was the second-highest grossing picture of the year. A sequel, "Robin of Locksey" was developed in the wake of its success but never went into production. 

The Bandit of Sherwood Forest ( 1946 ) - Columbia studios must have decided that eight years was a goodly span of time to wait before attempting their own retelling of the Robin Hood legend. They selected their most popular swashbuckling hero, Cornel Wilde, as the merry bandit and surrounded him with some right fair talent, such as Anita Louise and Edgar Buchanen, but alas, they did not come close to achieving the success of Warner Brothers' production almost a decade earlier. It remains an entertaining flick though.

The Flame and the Arrow ( 1950 ) - Burt Lancaster, at his tip-top fittest-finest acrobatic best, leaped and bounded in this rousing good yarn about a rebel leader, Bartoli, in medieval Italy during the time of Barbarossa. Virginia Mayo, Robert Douglas, and Aline MacMahon co-starred in this Jacques Tournear production. 

Ivanhoe ( 1952 ) - Sir Walter Scott's epic romance was brought to the screen in stunning Technicolor and headed with the dynamic Taylors, Elizabeth and Robert. If ever there was a man fit for heroic knighthood, it be Robert Taylor. The success of this feature spawned MGM to launch several other middle-aged adventure yarns within the next few years, starring robust Robert. Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, Emlyn Williams, and Finlay Currie co-starred in this wonderful froth of derring-do.

The Knights of the Round Table ( 1953 ) - MGM followed up the success of Ivanhoe with this aptly titled blockbuster about the knights of King Arthur's legendary round table. It was the studios first film in the new Cinemascope process, and the result was spectacularly vibrant color cinematography. This time Ava Gardner played the heroine, Fair Guinevere of all women, with Robert Taylor as Sir Lancelot, noble and loyal to King Arthur ( Mel Ferrer ) up until her beauty gets the best of him.

King Richard and the Crusaders ( 1954 ) - Sir Walter Scott film adaptations were all the rage in the mid-1950s over at MGM and so Warner Brothers joined the bandwagon and released "King Richard and the Crusaders", this too being their first film with Cinemascope. George Sanders decided to play the good-guy for a change and took the role of Richard the Lionheart, but the real star of the show was Rex Harrison as the Sultan Saladin. The beautiful Virginia Mayo co-starred as Lady Edith Plantagenet.

Prince Valiant ( 1954 ) - Robert Wagner once said that this was the most embarrassing film he had ever made. We do not blame him. Poor Wagner had to don the upside-down-bowl 'do of the popular comic strip hero, Prince Valiant. The fact that he plays a young noble hero who joins the Knights of the Round Table does not help his appearance. James Mason, Janet Leigh, Debra Paget, Sterling Haydn and Brian Aherne ( as King Arthur ) also starred. 

The Black Knight ( 1954 ) - Alan Ladd in tights was a sight that drew many a fair lady to the motion picture theatre, but alas, attendance was not plentiful enough to save this picture from becoming a flop. Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, who later rose to fame for producing the James Bond series, teamed up with Irving Allen, producer of sci-fi fantasy classics such as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, to produce this film..but they were not capable of saving it from being a flop. The supporting cast included Peter Cushing, Patricia Medina, Harry Andrews, Andre Morrell, and Laurence Naismith...but they were not talented enough to save it from becoming a flop! It was doomed from the start.

The Black Shield of Falworth ( 1954 ) - Torin Thatcher plays a delicious villain in this amiable men-in-tights romp. Tony Curtis stars as the son of a disgraced knight who - noble by birth, noble by nature - attempts to thwart this villain's attempts to the throne of King Henry IV. Janet Leigh plays our lovely damsel and distress and David Farrar, Barbara Rush and Herbert Marshall round out the stellar cast.

The Adventures of Quentin Durward ( 1955 ) - MGM followed up their "Ivanhoe" success with another Walter Scott based film, Quentin Durward. Once again Robert Taylor headed up the cast in this story about a penniless Scottish knight who becomes involved in court intrigue. Kay Kendell and Robert Morley co-starred. This was the third film in a trilogy of medieval adventure/romances directed by Richard Thorpe and produced by Pandro S. Berman. 

The Court Jester ( 1955 ) - Danny Kaye, a minstrel to the Black Fox, masquerades as a court jester to help aid in a plot to usurp an evil ruler who has overthrown the rightful king. The Court Jester was the most expensive comedy film produced at the time and bombed at the box-office but since then it has become one of the most beloved of Kaye's films and a television classic. Glynis Johns, Basil Rathbone and Angela Lansbury also starred. 

"The pellet with the poison's in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true!"

The Dark Avenger ( 1955 ) - This film marked Errol Flynn's last sojourn in the historical adventure genre that he had rose to stardom in. It follows the adventures of Edward, the Black Prince, son of King Edward III and heir to the throne of England, as he tries to liberate the people of Aquitaine from the cruel grasp of France. Joanne Dru and Peter Finch provide steady support to Flynn in the film that the New York Times labeled as "corn...every step of the way". Oh well, its good to have a serving of corn every once in awhile.

The Vagabond King ( 1956 ) - Oreste and Kathryn Grayson starred in this eye-popping Technicolor musical about the life and loves of the 14th century French poet and rebel, Francois Villon. This is the fifth screen re-telling of the story. Ronald Colman starred in "If I Were King" ( 1938 ), the non-Frimlized version. 

The Magic Sword ( 1962 ) - All great actors were relegated to playing in cheap sci-fi/horror films during the final days of their Basil Rathbone's case, he got a few fantasy/adventure films thrown into the lot as well. This film, aimed more at the children's crowd, told the story of a sorceress' son and his quest to save a princess from the hands of an evil wizard ( Rathbone ). Anne Helm and Gary Lockwood portrayed the young princess and her savior.

Camelot ( 1967 ) - Beautiful cinematography highlighted this movie about the life of the legendary King Arthur, focusing mainly on his marriage to Guinevere and her affairs with his comrade, Sir Lancelot. Joshua Logan's lusty film adaption of the popular Lerner and Lowe Broadway stage musical starred Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrace, David Hemmings and Lionel Jeffries as the principal Camelotians. Alas, like many other musicals of the late 1960s, it was cast with actors who could not sing. Julie Andrews was sorely missed here. 

The Lion in Winter ( 1968 ) - Katharine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole stage a scrumptious feast of witty banter in this story about Henry II and his estranged wife, Queen Eleanor Acquitaine and their Christmas reunion. The two thespians chatted and drank their way through a film that earned six Academy Award nominations, and one win for Hepburn. A young Anthony Hopkins makes this screen debut as Prince Richard. 


  1. Wow. I've only seen a couple of these, but quite a few are now on my to-find list! Thanks!

    1. A few of them we never heard of's always fun to discover a "new" old film!

  2. I am looking to identify a medieval film made presumably in the 1950's or 1960's which I remember vaguely from my youth. I just remember a hero and his beautiful lady, and in the end the two do not live happily ever after because she decides to become a nun. At least, it was not the happy ending I was hoping for. Does anyone recognize this movie?

    1. AnonymousSeptember 5, 2017 at 6:27 PM
      Knights of the Round Table. Robert Taylor and Ava Gardner.

  3. Knights of the Round Table. Robert Taylor and Ava Gardner.

  4. You left out my favorite, "Becket," in which the incomparable Peter O'Toole plays the younger Henry II, a role he reprised in Lion in Winter. Richard Burton played Becket, the king's friend turned antagonist, and their scenes together just burn the screen.