The Black Shield of Falworth (1954)
Genre: Medieval Swashbuckler
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.