30 March 2008 | Bunuel1976
THE BLACK SHIELD OF FALWORTH (Rudolph Mate', 1954) ***
As I am nearing the end of this eclectic but erratic month-long epic film viewing marathon, I have decided to dedicate this Saturday to revisiting my fondly remembered childhood memories of two vintage (but relatively minor) Technicolor swashbucklers which, thankfully, I purposely managed to acquire only recently: one is the latter-day Errol Flynn pirate yarn, AGAINST ALL FLAGS (1952; see below) and the other, naturally, the film under review.
After all these years, THE BLACK SHIELD OF FALWORTH still emerges as the engaging romp I recalled it to be and is, in fact, a superior piece of Hollywood hokum – so much so that it’s quite a mystery to me how the film (which was even Universal’s very first Widescreen picture) is as yet unavailable anywhere on DVD and I have had to make do with a full-frame VHSrip which, in hindsight, is of surprisingly tolerable quality (with only the tell-tale excessive headroom being indicative of the fact that it was shot in a different aspect ratio). In any case, I think it is high time that, like Rock Hudson before him, Tony Curtis be given his own “Franchise Collection” DVD release from Universal which ought to contain (for starters) the equally exotic THE PRINCE WHO WAS A THIEF (1951; his first starring vehicle which was also directed by FALWORTH helmer, Rudolph Mate'), SON OF ALI BABA (1952) and THE PURPLE MASK (1955) – as well as any of the other Universal programmers Curtis starred in before emerging (if only briefly) with an altogether more adult image for Alexander Mackendrick’s superb SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957).
Anyhow, back to FALWORTH: set in England during the reign of King Henry IV (Ian Keith), Curtis is (albeit unknowingly at first) the son of an unjustly accused and executed aristocrat who, along with his lovely sister (Barbara Rush), embarks on his way to knighthood by joining the men-at-arms school situated in the castle of an old ally of his father’s (Herbert Marshall) and tyrannically overseen by cantankerous but ultimately well-meaning one-eyed warrior (Torin Thatcher). The impressive cast is further bolstered by the appearance of Curtis’ then-wife Janet Leigh (as Marshall’s daughter who, naturally, falls for the uncouth graces of this “county bumpkin”), Dan O’ Herlihy (in a drunken, buffoonish caricature of Prince Hal – later King Henry V – which is merely a front to mislead the traitors within his father’s court), David Farrar (as the villainous Earl of Alban), Patrick O’Neal (as the latter’s brother and Curtis’ chief contender at training school and for the hand of Leigh herself) and Rhys Williams (playing the loyal servant who harbors Curtis and Rush at the beginning of the film).
While some of the plot points got hazier with the passage of time, I still remembered the scenes of Curtis climbing the walls of the castle to go romance Janet Leigh during her afternoon croquet lessons, of Curtis stumbling around upon donning heavy armor for the first time and the exciting climactic jousting duel between Curtis and Farrar; needless to say, I now much preferred the various vivid sequences of training and combat to the bland romantic stuff but, still, I was disappointed that the immortal, much derided line supposedly uttered by Curtis in this film, “Yonda lies da castle of my fodda”, is never actually spoken, resulting in yet another Hollywood legend – a' la ALGIERS (1938; “Come wiz me to the Casbah”) and CASABLANCA (1942; “Play it again, Sam”) – which has, with time, grown to become accepted as fact!