Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.
Thursday, July 12, 2018
PRINCE VALIANT (1954). Director: Henry Hathaway.
Hal Foster's newspaper comic strip Prince Valiant -- which debuted in the late 1930's and is still published today -- was given lavish treatment by 20th Century-Fox with Technicolor and CinemaScope. Valiant (Robert Wagner of Titanic) is the Viking son of the exiled King Aguar (Donald Crisp). Hoping to restore his father to his throne, Val travels to the court of King Arthur, where he hopes to become a knight. Arthur (Brian Aherne) tells him that he must be a squire first, and he is assigned to Sir Gawain (Sterling Hayden of The Star). Valiant falls in love at first sight with the beautiful Princess Aleta (Janet Leigh of Psycho), but, alas, Gawain falls instantly in love with her himself even as her sister, Ilene (Debra Paget) pines for him. An added complication is a sinister and mysterious Black Knight, who has men who are loyal to him and wishes Arthur's throne for himself. Prince Valiant is a beautifully-produced movie which boasts one of Franz Waxman's richest and most elaborate scores, as well as exquisite cinematography from Lucien Ballard. The performances are fine, and James Mason -- although this is arguably not one of his more memorable roles -- adds a nice touch as Sir Brack, who may have a few secrets (none of which will be surprising to the audience). In its early years the Prince Valiant strip had fantastic elements such as sorcery and monstrous giant beasts, but by the fifties the strip was more realistic and the film adaptation follows suit. There is, however, a well-choreographed and fiery battle scene, and a splendid and protracted sword fight between Val and Sir Brack. Ultimately, how much you enjoy the movie depends on how much you like the time period and the comic strip. Prince Valiant was never my cup of java, but the movie is still impressive in many ways.
Verdict: Beautiful production values and not a bad story. ***.