Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


Richard Harris as King Arthur
CAMELOT (1967). Director: Joshua Logan.

"Perhaps one day I will see forgiveness in your eyes. But I won't be there. I won't see it." -- a tearful Guenevere

Noble King Arthur (Richard Harris) of Camelot is trying to bring civilization and order to a barbaric society. Despite some opposition, things are going swimmingly until two major factors interfere. One is Arthur's reptile of a son, Modred (David Hemmings of Deep Red), who conspires against his father behind the scenes. The other is the triangle that develops between Arthur,  Queen Guenevere (Vanessa Redgrave), and the proud, handsome knight, Lancelot (Franco Nero), which causes tremendous complications. The sad thing about this film adaptation of the hit Broadway Lerner and Loewe musical is that much of it is excellent. In fact, one might think that it's a pity that the movie didn't end at the intermission. The first half, showing the meeting and growing love of Arthur and Guenevere, as well as the creation of the Round Table, and ending with Arthur's sad realization of the feelings between his queen and Lancelot, plays very well for the most part. Things go awry in the second half however, with too many scenes that would have played perfectly well in the theater but don't go over at all on the big screen. Like most of the roadshow musicals of the period, Camelot goes on too long, with unnecessary sequences that add nothing to the movie.

The performances are problematic as well. Harris [Mutiny on the Bounty] has some excellent moments, but seems to be playing Arthur as a kind of "camp" through much of the movie. It is possible he was inspired by Richard Burton's performance in the stage play, but whereas Burton can get away with being "cute," the more serious Harris can not. While Arthur is an admirable character in many ways, one does get annoyed that, despite his internal anguish, he never displays some simple rage over being cuckolded by the two people he cares for the most, making him seem rather weak. One doesn't expect Arthur to chop off their heads as other kings might have done, but some expression of anger might have been appropriate. Vanessa Redgrave [Mary Queen of Scots] is simply lovely and excellent as Guenevere while Franco Nero manages to get by without being much of an actor, at least in this. although he does have one very fine moment. Harris did his own singing, which isn't any better than Burton's, Redgrave's own voice is just passable, and Nero is dubbed.

Whatever its flaws, Camelot boasts a fascinating and moving story -- one man's dream destroyed by others' passions -- and music and lyrics by Lerner and Loewe, including "Camelot" [the orchestrations for the chorus of this song are especially wonderful]; "If Ever I Would Leave You;" and others. And there are some splendidly touching moments, such as Lancelot sobbing over the corpse of Sir Dinadan (Anthony Rogers); Arthur's soliloquy about the love between the queen and Lancelot; and the final good-bye between Arthur and Guenevere, one of the best scenes in the movie.

Lionel Jeffries is his usual bumbling self as Arthur's adviser, Pellinore, and Laurence Naismith is fine as the magician Merlyn. Estelle Winwood shows up briefly as Lady Clarinda, who accompanies Guenevere to Camelot. (The latter wonders "Was there ever a more inconvenient marriage of convenience?") Gary Marsh has a nice turn as the young Tom of Warwick, who gives Arthur hope at the end.

Verdict: Half a good movie. ***.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill! Your review of this film, and of the musical itself, is spot-on. I've never felt that Camelot is a strong piece, and the music is not all that memorable. As you say, there ARE great moments, but to me there is more magic in the Ed Sullivan kinescopes of Burton and Julie Andrews than the lush technicolor widescreen film version with Harris and Redgrave and Nero. But you are right--it is beautifully filmed, and you have made me want to watch at least the first half again.

Vanessa and Franco had a torrid affair on the set of this picture, but it took them more than 4 decades to rekindle the flame and marry. Romantic!

Thanks for another very astute analysis of this film's appeal, and its drawbacks. So much fun!

William said...

Thank you, Chris. Yeah, forty years is a long time between assignations! Franco Nero sort of faded out as an actor but apparently he was always in Vanessa's thought. I think I like the Broadway show better than you do, but you're right that aside from a couple of numbers it isn't nearly as good as "My Fair Lady" and others.