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Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Black Shield of Falworth ( 1954 )

In 1954, Universal-Pictures brought to the screen Howard Pyle's classic story of adventure "Men of Iron" and hailed that it would capture "all the pageantry and excitement of knighthood's epic age". The newly titled The Black Shield of Falworth did not accomplish that task as well as Warner Brothers' The Adventures of Robin Hood ( 1938 ) or Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's Ivanhoe ( 1952 ) but it certainly is entertaining.

Young Myles Falworth ( Tony Curtis ) and his sister Meg ( Barbara Rush ) are sent to the castle of the Earl of Mackworth ( Herbert Marshall ), a dear friend of Myles' deceased father whom he never met. Here, Myles learns to become a squire and, later a knight, all the while attempting to learn about his family's crest - the Black Shield of Falworth - and to discover who his father was. 

While at the castle, he falls in love with the Earl's daughter, Lady Anne ( Janet Leigh ) and also becomes embroiled in a conspiracy plot led by the treacherous Earl of Alban ( David Farrar ) to overthrow King Henry IV ( Ian Keith ).

The Black Shield of Falworth is rich in plot, rich in Technicolor, it boasts a fabulous cast and features two great fight sequences, making it an entertaining - if not all that memorable - swashbuckler. 
Universal-Pictures knew they had a star in the making when they signed Bernard Schwartz to a contract in 1948. They taught him riding and fencing and changed his name to Anthony Curtis and then introduced him to audiences in a few budget westerns before awarding him his first feature film The Prince Who Was a Thief ( 1951 ) opposite Piper Laurie. Here was a different kind of swashbuckling hero - an overly-anxious and often hot-headed young man with a very pleasant personality, jet-black hair and a winsome smile.

This Middle Eastern-themed adventure film was followed by the similarly-themed swashbuckler Son of Ali Baba in 1952 and then The Black Shield of Falworth, which was Universal's first picture to be made in Cinemascope. 
Tony Curtis, who was 29-years-old at the time, is great in the part of Myles but the role really should have been given to a younger actor to play. The character of Myles is a mere teenager in the original novel and even in the film is often referred to as "the young lad" or "boy" which doesn't quite sound right since Tony was obviously a man at that time. 

Janet Leigh is lovely as Lady Anne; Torin Thatcher is a glove-fit for the part of Sir James, Myles trainer for knighthood; and Herbert Marshall, who always gives a good performance, is well-suited as the Earl. Unfortunately, David Farrar's talents are wasted, and Barbara Rush is given a merely decorative part. 

Also in the cast is the wonderful Dan O'Herlihy as Prince Hal, a young Patrick O'Neal, Rhys Williams, and Doris Lloyd. 

2 comments:

  1. I always thought Tony looked out of place, but Janet was stunning in her gowns. And, you point out, what a great supporting cast: Herbert Marshall as the fatherly Mackworth; Dan O'Herlihy as Prince Hal, who plays the fool to deceive the bad guys; David Farrar as the villainous Alban (decked out in black from head to toe); and Torin Thatcher as the eye-patched, staff-wielding taskmaster that transforms Myles into a valiant warrior.

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  2. This is on my watch-it-eventually list :-) Tony Curtis is always fun, and I love swashbuckler adventure pictures!

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