More, it is a tale of fellowship undone not first of all by the treachery of enemies but by the frailty of human nature itself, even of the most trusted intimates. Perhaps that’s partly why classic Hollywood forayed more successfully into Sherwood Forest and Zorro’s California than Camelot.
Even in the silent era, with Douglas Fairbanks playing every legendary hero from Zorro to Robin Hood to D’Artagnan, seeking adventure everywhere from the Spanish Main (The Black Pirate) to Arabian Nights territory (The Thief of Bagdad) to South America (The Gaucho), King Arthur was overlooked.
The narration in verse has been set to music adapted from authentic medieval melodies, and is sung in the original old French by a chorus of minstrels playing traditional instruments, as well as by the players themselves. The players’ bright costumes and the overtly stagey sets — a grove of abstract sculpture-like trees for a forest; simple façade castles built of painted wood — were inspired by medieval paintings and illuminated manuscripts.
The story starts a bit stiffly with the tale of Arthur’s rise to power, beginning with the adult Arthur (Mel Ferrer) and rival Mordred (Stanley Baker) meeting at the sword in the stone with their respective advocates, Merlin (Felix Aylmer) and Morgan le Fey (Anne Crawford). Things improve with the arrival of Lancelot (Robert Taylor), who even before meeting Arthur is willing to die for him and his ideals of chivalry, courtesy, and virtue.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.