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Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Classic Film Review: The Black Shield of Falworth (1954)

The Black Shield of Falworth stars Tony Curtis as Myles, a man who has been brought up as peasant with his sister Meg (Barbara Rush) but whose history hides a more noble past. He goes to train with the Earl of Mackworth (Herbert Marshall) where he hopes to learn the truth about himself but finds himself in constant battles with the other squires and also falls in love with Mackworth's daughter, Lady Anne (Janet Leigh). Mackworth's patronage to Myles becomes more important when King Henry IV (Ian Keith) arrives, influenced by the vindictive Earl of Alban (David Farrar), who played a hand in the misfortune of Myles' family.

It's a bit of a complex plot - it also includes Prince Hal played admirably by Dan O'Herlihy - but an enjoyable, liberal, look at history. With lavish costumes and beautiful sets, it brings to life a castle of the era and some superb performances give the film a good lift. I wasn't too sure at the beginning of Tony Curtis as a peasant or a knight but he grew into the role. As ever, Janet Leigh stole the show for me in a period role which reminded me of her performance in The Vikings (1958, reviewed here). Of course, Curtis and Leigh were married when this film was made, throwing a new slant on the relationship portrayed within it.

It's a vibrant film that wouldn't win awards for historical accuracy but it is a good example of when Hollywood historical drama works. The choreography of the numerous fight scenes, for instance, is superb, with characters jumping, falling and being thrown all over the place. At the heart of the film is a mostly likeable hothead but, I have to admit, I was very interested in the character of Meg and her romance with Francis Gascoyne (Craig Hill) which dipped in and out of the story far too often. While it got a resolution there should have been a few more scenes devoted to it in my view. While we saw the evolution of the relationship between Myles and Lady Anne, we weren't given the same opportunity between Meg and Francis.

The Black Shield of Falworth decently mixes drama with a few moments of amusement, showcasing Janet Leigh's comic talents at times. There is a liberal smattering of violence and death towards the end in some more of those wonderfully choreographed scenes but this is a good film, an enjoyable historical romp with some excellent performances.

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