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Friday Film Review: The Black Shield of Falworth

The Black Shield of Falworth (1954)

Genre: Medieval Swashbuckler

Grade: B-

The second Friday Film Review I did was of “Captain Blood” and in the comments Kathleen MacIver described this movie and asked if anyone could help her figure out the title. I knew immediately what she was talking about as I’d seen it a few times when I was younger. It took me awhile to get to it but here it is. It’s attributed as having the most famous line that Tony Curtis never said. Honestly, I listened for it.

During the reign of Henry IV, brother and sister duo Myles (Tony Curtis) and Meg (Barbara Rush) have been raised in obscurity in (I swear his accent makes it sound like) Crispy Dale. Makes me think of a land of donuts. Anyway, one fine day the Earl of Albans and another dissolute nobleman happen upon the humble cottage and Myles is forced to defend Meg thus incurring the wrath of the nobles. Fleeing their home, they arrive at a chuch where a mysterious priest gives them a letter to deliver to the Earl of Mackworth (Herbert Marshall) along with a ring bearing an unknown heraldic crest. Arriving there, Myles is sent to train with the (rather spiffily dressed) squires while Meg becomes the companion of Lady Anne (Janet Leigh) of the 100 beautiful dresses.

Myles has a brash attitude a mile long and wastes no opportunities to get into fights with the snotty young snots training for knighthood. Meanwhile Meg gets to wear cool dresses, learn to ride and play croquet. Lady Anne’s speciality is teasing young squires and avoiding any duty that remotely resembles being the chatelaine of the caste. The training continues, and continues, and continues yet Myles has quickly figured out that the answer to the secret of his and Meg’s birth is somehow to be found at Mackworth Castle. Meanwhile, however, he’ll get trained harder than any other man there and, along with his friend Francis (Craig Hill), take any chance to use their newly acquired skills in storming castle walls to scale the one surrounding the garden where Anne and Meg flit away their time playing and waiting to be courted.

But!…storm clouds are brewing and before long the King (Ian Keith) arrives with, among others, the Earl of Albans. Mackworth tricks the King into knighting Myles thus allowing Myles to challenge the man responsible for his father’s dishonorment and death. With their fates and that of the King and Prince of Wales riding on it, will Myles be able to use all his hard won skills to save the day and win the fair lady?

Someone at IMDB calls this “Technicolor and tights.” How right they are. It’s blazing color and medieval costumes that only ever existed in Hollywood. Tony and the boys look mighty fine in their tighty tights and and well coiffed haircuts. Too bad he looks more like an upended turtle in his knightly armor. The muck-free peasant cottage is probably nicer than my first apartment and airier too. Mackworth Castle is free of rushes, dogs, and servants with an astounding amount of privacy available for almost everyone. Don’t forget to check out the library with the Earl’s 24 books. Truly, I am grateful for the printing press and ereader.

No, the costumes – well, except for the King, someone took some time with his head gear – are probably not accurate, but Tony and Janet looked marvelous in them. Tony also got to show off his acrobatic skills with plenty of swinging and kicking and jumping not to mention swordfighting and horseback riding. He goes for the role with gusto and I can’t help but enjoy watching it – up to a point. If only there had been a little less men-at-arms training. This goes on past the point where my eyes glazed a little. I could also have done with a teensy bit less of Tony brawling every five minutes. I think this was actually used to pad out the movie and keep viewers from thinking about how thin the plot really is. The dialogue is a little awkward and stilted too though Tony’s accent never approached the horrors I’d heard.

The plot has little to do with any actual events but I agree with another reviewer at IMDB that it got me to spend an agreeable hour looking up the life of Henry IV and his torturous road to the throne – though Richard II would probably have said he suffered more for his cousin to be King. The depiction of Prince Hal (future Henry V) as faking being a wine loving sop in order to avoid attracting the attention of the evil Earl of Albans is hilarious. Torin Thatcher turns out to be my favorite secondary character, Sir James, complete with an eye patch and an attitude towards any young squire who thinks too highly of himself.

“The Black Shield of Falworth” is definitely a “rainy day and bowl of popcorn” movie. Just sit back, enjoy and definitely don’t take it too seriously. The men are handsome, the ladies are fair and it’s not too remote a possibility that some of the horses had more sense than their riders. You have to watch for that line to understand. Oh, what’s the line Tony never said? “Yonda lies the castle of my fadda.” It’s not available at Netflix but there is a nice looking region 2 edition that’s out, a DVR region 1 edition, and for the rest of us, someone has posted the entire movie at youtube. Type in the title and pick the one that has the whole movie in one go.

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

23 Comments

  1. cate
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 07:12:33

    Am so disappointed that that line is apochryphal.

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  2. Jayne
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 07:17:43

    @cate: I had heard that it was so I paid close attention. I was bummed too. But like I said, he looks scrumptious in his tights.

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  3. Caro
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 08:14:39

    Ah, another movie that I first saw when my mother decided I could stay up and catch it on the late show with her. Good memories as we giggled and snarked our way through it.

    One note on the costuming. I once had the chance to see one of the costume “reference books” that had been put together for MGM’s Young Bess, released just the previous year. It was a mish-mash of period portraits, re-drawings of portraits and outfits and Victorian history paintings (which really are a sub-genre of their own) all shoved together into a scrapbook with no commentary, notation, or context. It was put together for Walter Plunkett, the film’s costume designer and then put into MGM’s library for use by other designers. In fact, the check-out log was still in the front of the book.

    Black Shield of Falworth is Universal, not MGM, but I’ll wager they probably did much the same thing — just gathered up a bunch a pictures of “medieval” stuff or grabbed what might be in the studio’s reference library. Henry IV’s headgear probably came about because there was a copy of the portrait among those and someone went “That’s what he’s supposed to look like!”

    Hollywood in the Dream Factory years; gotta love it.

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  4. Jayne
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 08:21:46

    @Caro: That would be so cool to look at! At least here they used broadswords and none of the women had pointy, horned headdresses. They did look like they were wearing bullet bras though.

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  5. Gwenhwyfar
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 09:04:25

    This movie is very very loosely based on Howard Pyle’s “Men of Iron”, which happens to be my favorite book of all time.

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  6. Darlene Marshall
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 09:18:21

    Dang! I’m totally bummed to find out the classic line is apocryphal. It’s used to great effect in the delightful (and underrated) SF novel Waiting for the Galactic Bus by Parke Godwin.

    I saw the movie once, which was more than enough, but it’s a great popcorn flick.

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  7. Darlynne
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 10:50:08

    Wait, I would have sworn I heard that line when I watched the movie on TV. Tony’s sitting on the bank of a body of water, looking back at the castle. Really? It’s not true? Then I say someone edited it out, because where else would I even have picked up on it as a pre-Internet child? We was robbed!

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  8. Aliza_M
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 11:08:10

    This is such a guilty pleasure movie! I love the book it’s based on, “Men of Iron” by Howard Pyle (well worth seeking out). The movie is so cheesy but ultimately satisfying in that, “don’t tell anyone I like this” kind of way (kind of like “The Crimson Pirate”). I’m glad to see it reviewed here. Though I must say that Tony Curtis was no Burt Lancaster :-).

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  9. Lynne Connolly
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 11:48:00

    It’s like being told about Santa Claus.
    If you want another side of the story, look out for the BBC version of “The Hollow Crown,” the four history plays by Shakespeare. Tom Hiddlestone as Henry V, Jeremy Irons as Henry IV, Ben Whishaw as Richard II – with a few other luminaries like Patrick Stewart, Alun Armstrong, Simon Russell Beale and James Purefoy along for the ride. Honestly, it’s gobsmackingly good. Should be with you by the end of the year.

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  10. Lynne Connolly
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 11:50:46

    wow, how did it embed? Didn’t know it could do that!

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  11. Isobel Carr
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 11:51:20

    @Gwenhwyfar: I was thinking that as I read the review! I loved that book as a kid.

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  12. Gwenhwyfar
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 12:29:45

    @Isobel Carr: I had to read it for 7th or 8th grade and I loved it so much my Mom gave it to me for Christmas. It’s funny that I always tend to think of this book as my first “romance”, even though that’s not techncially I romance (I guess). The scenes between Myles and Lady Alice are so romantic and sweet. In all my years of reading romance (and there have been a lot), Myles Falworth is the knight against which all other knights are compared, and they’ve all fallen short. OK – now i’m just going to have to read it again!

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  13. cate
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 14:10:57

    @Lynne Connolly: So agree with re: The Hollow Crown… I’ve been glued to BBC 2 for the last 3 Saturday nights . I’d have to say,that even if anyone thinks they don’t like/can’t get on with Shakespeare, these three films will absolutely blow them away. Tom Hiddleston /Jeremy Irons & Simon Russell Beale (why doesn’t this man do more film/TV ???) are an utter dream team. And the accompanying documentarys are outstanding. The Beeb at its best.
    Right – I’m going off yonder to the castle of my farder now :)

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  14. Alaina
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 15:09:57

    I’ve actually been wanting to rewatch this movie recently. You’ve pushed me into it. So stupid, and yet so fun! I will say, though, that for non-piratey swordfighting (although, honestly, who doesn’t love The Crimson Pirate?) my favorite classic is Stuart Granger in Scaramouche. It had, or maybe still has, the longest swordfight in cinematic history. So much fun!

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  15. Lynne Connolly
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 15:58:00

    @cate: With bells on!
    BTW, they’ve put the Turkish bath scene up on youtube. what’s the betting we get Hal/Poins slash fiction soon?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZb-xjK3pfg
    Simon Russell Beale is said by many to be the best Shakespearean actor alive today, and he does mainly theatre. Prefers it. Richard Eyre said he’d do the two Henry IV plays on one condition- that Simon Russell Beale did Falstaff. It’s his first Falstaff and it was a joy to watch.

    Back to the Black Shield – I used to love Tony Curtis. He showed what he could do in “Some Like It Hot,” but he had to do these sword and swashbuckling things, too. I loved a film about Renaissance Italy, where there’s a scene where the villain puts out a character’s eyes by squashing them like grapes – but I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called. Tony Curtis wasn’t in it, but somebody who also did those things, maybe Burt Lancaster?
    Remember “The Vikings”? What a film!

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  16. cate
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 17:28:51

    @Lynne Connolly: The film with the eye popping grape scene is a Tyrone Power jobbie – called The Prince of Foxes & I think Orson Welles might have been in it too.
    Re: Simon Russell Beale , I’ve got the radio 4 production of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, where he plays Smilie – I have to give it to the man -He out Smilied Alec Guinness !

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  17. Lynne Connolly
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 17:32:34

    @cate: Thank you! Oh wow, I have to look that one up!

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  18. Michelle
    Jul 20, 2012 @ 20:33:18

    Just an fyi but Men of Iron is free on kindle.
    I really enjoyed this movie. Also love Stewart Granger.

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  19. Klio
    Jul 21, 2012 @ 14:09:44

    I’m compelled to chime in and say that this is the sort of wonderfully delicious old movie I grew up watching on late-night weekend TV, and I’ll never stop loving the beautiful shiny Technicolor Cinemascopiness of them all. They filled up my impressionable mind and led me to love both fantasy and historical(ly accurate) genres, and gave me a taste for a little swashbuckling myself (under the controlled circumstances of backyard fencing).

    I enjoy going back and watching those old movies now as a grown-up, but this one meant so much to me (along with The Court Jester…which is…not quite the same sort of thing? exactly the same sort of thing??), I’m not sure I’d dare watch it again, lest I peel away the glowing memory of it. I didn’t realise–or maybe forgot–it was based on a book. Maybe I’ll try reading that, instead!

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  20. Linda Hilton
    Jul 22, 2012 @ 11:55:53

    @Lynne Connolly: The film is indeed “Prince of Foxes” with Tyrone Power, Orson Welles, and Everett Sloane as Mario Belli, the eye-putter-outer. A fabulous movie done very faithfully to the book by Samuel Shellabarger. The only shortcoming is that the film is B&W, thus lacking the visual splendor of Borgia Italy. Orson Welles simply is Cesare.

    Burt Lancaster in The Flame and the Arrow is another forgotten swashbuckler classic.

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  21. Jayne
    Jul 22, 2012 @ 18:24:59

    @Linda Hilton: I’m going to have to check out “Prince of Foxes.” Tyrone Power died far too young.

    “The Crimson Pirate” is my favorite between that and “The Flame and the Arrow.”
    http://dearauthor.com/?s=burt+lancaster

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  22. Curtiss Mooney
    Nov 02, 2012 @ 11:53:18

    Tony Curtis is sometimes said to have uttered the line, “Yonder lies the castle of my faddah.” in “The Black Shield of Falworth” and sometimes in “The Prince of Theives”, but it was actually delivered in 1952′s “Son of Ali Baba”.

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  23. Curtiss Mooney
    Nov 02, 2012 @ 11:55:05

    … and even that version is missquoted; the actual line is, “This is my father’s palace. And yonder lies the Valley of the Sun.” delivered with barely a trace of Brooklyn accent.

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