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Friday Film Review

Friday Film Review: The Black Shield of Falworth

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.


Friday Film Review: On Approval (1982)

Friday Film Review: On Approval (1982)

On Approval (1982 TV production)

Genre: Witty Comedy of Manners

Grade: B+

“I suppose I should warn you, I lock my door at night.”

“Not to worry, . . . only the snow will be wanting to get in.”

“On Approval” is a late 1920s play written by Frederick Lonsdale which has twice been made into movies and was later presented by the BBC in a televised production in 1982. I first saw the 1944 film, which has been shifted in time to the late Victorian age and which I’d like to review at a later time, and while searching for information about it, I discovered that the 1982 version was done. It has a stellar rating at the IMDB but doesn’t appear to have been ever released as either a DVD or even a VHS tape. This, of course, is like waving a red flag in my face. The hunt was on. Luckily, it wasn’t too hard to discover how to watch it and if you have access to youtube, you can too.

Rich, spoiled and domineering widow Maria Wislake (Penelope Keith) can’t quite decide if she likes long time friend and admirer Richard (Benjamin Whitrow) enough to marry him. Her first marriage taught her that men can “appear to be everything desirable in a man” while in reality they are anything but. Her young and wealthy friend Helen (Lindsay Duncan), laughs but then perks up her ears at Maria’s plan which is to take Richard with her to her country estate in Scotland for a platonic month. At the end of that time, Maria will either know that she and Richard can be happy in marriage or, should things not work out, she’ll give Richard train fare back to London and there’s nothing lost.

Meanwhile, Richard and George, 12th Duke of Bristol have been discussing Richard’s love for Maria. Egotistical George (Jeremy Brett) thinks Richard is mad. He’s known Maria as long as Richard and thinks her an irritating nag. George also tells Richard that the next day he is to meet with his advisors because he is financially destitute. His choice is to marry a wealthy woman or be broke. Luckily, he feels that Helen – the daughter of a man who made a mint in pickles – will do for a Duchess.

The characters change places and Maria puts her proposal to a delighted Richard who accepts, thinking that at last he’ll have as a wife the woman he’s always loved. Later George announces to Richard that he will journey up the next day with Helen in order for them to help things along though in reality George really hopes to throw a spanner in the works while Helen hopes to land George. The shocked Scottish servants will have none of it and promptly decamp leaving the two couples stranded. At the end of a month, will love triumph or will eyes have been opened?

This is well done for a television production which is not surprising since it’s the BBC. The costumes and sets are superb and I only wish the quality of the recording was worthy of them. But as the youtube episodes are taken from an old VHS recording taped from TV, we have to accept what we’ve got. Still, it’s actually not too bad and since it doesn’t look like there will be a professionally restored version anytime soon, one must soldier on.

And with the stellar cast involved, the soldiering is well worth it. Penelope Keith is wonderful as a managing Englishwoman who would make a roomful of generals quake in their boots. Jeremy Brett matches her in aristocratic arrogance. He is a Duke to the tips of his fingers and quite happy to allow Helen to wait on him. It takes a while before Lindsay Duncan can let loose with her feelings for him but once she does, she is a tower of strength who can prick his pretensions with the tact of a lady born. Benjamin Whitrow might begin as a mannerly milksop but once he’s made up his mind, he too makes his feelings known in no uncertain terms. Half of the fun is watching all four of them deliver their lines with pitch perfect timing and expressions that say far more than the polite words allowed to pass their lips.

Only the English could possibly deliver such verbal thrusts and still sound so well mannered. The elegant ripostes are spoken in precise, cut glass accents with elegant nonchalance. The four characters are magnificently insulting and take deadly aim at each other with the result that I was laughing almost the whole time. Sniping has never been so much fun to listen to. Go ahead, watch it at work. It’s only 80 minutes. You know you deserve it.


Alright, how can you watch it? Cut and paste this link and it should take you to a screen with all 7 parts listed plus an intro featuring Alistair Cooke. Note: just typing in “On Approval” will require some digging to find this as the person who put it up uses the Greek alphabet for some of the lettering.