The Death of the Arthur: Ever get the feeling you’ve been Galahad?

You’ve been in a state of high tension, haven’t you, for DAYS, since we left Sir Galahad up to his fleshy neck in quicksand.

The trouble with quicksand as a cliffhanger is that, while the predicament is suspenseful, even frightening, the solution is generally laborious and unheroic — the hero has to be rescued by a sidekick, emerging mucky and clumping from the filth with a rueful expression. I’d like to see someone come up with a better solution than the friend with a stick, or rope, or vine. Maybe the hero could chuck a grenade a short distance away to BLAST himself loose? But this is hardly a suitable trope for Sir G, unless he has access to the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch.

I have to admire the optimism of the music editor laying in suspense music as George Reeves is dragged from the mire. This is NOT exciting. By the time he’s basically sliding across shallow mud it’s not even dignified.

The mystery of WHO IS THE BLACK KNIGHT? develops slightly when his armour is found in a cave, and then there are some explosions. One of these reveals Excalibur embedded in the cave wall — the Sword in some Stone. The other reveals Merlin, teleporting in. He takes the sword and explodes off for parts unknown, leaving us all No Further Forward (which would make a perfect chapter title for any movie serial).

Back into the “enchanted forest” — which is just one enchanted tree, really. So naturally Sir Bors gets himself grabbed by it. To be fair, he was lured into clutching distance by a mirage of some food. Unlike Sir Galahad, Sir Bors manages to get free quite easily, and then has probably 1949’s only sword fight with a tree. Having an opponent who’s rooted to the earth should make the fight easier, in fact totally avoidable — just step out of range and taunt — but Sir Bors is more of a doughty plodder so he just stands his ground and hacks away at his wooden foe until it vanishes by jump cut.

Merlin’s regular explosions — “No more curried eggs for me” — and a shot that reveals him watching from a rocky outcrop — really are reminiscent of John Cleese’s Tim the enchanter — I wonder if one or other of the Python team saw this in their youth? Gilliam seems likeliest. The Python version is so dramatic it could just about pass muster in a serious flick, like EXCALIBUR.

New trap — Galahad and Bors find Excalibut again, stuck in a cliff face, and when they try to tug it out, they become magnetized or glued to it by Merlin’s spell. But nobody seems to have regarded this as good cliffhanging material — though our guys are literally hanging onto something stuck in a cliff, so Morgane le Fay dissolves into view to rescue them. She easily vanquishes Merlin, by saying “Begone!” He walks off sullenly, which is not quite the dramatic magical banishing I was expecting. I guess they were all out of pyrotechnics, or couldn’t use them near the dry Californian foliage.

Captured by outlaws, Galahad and Bors are left tied up, and then untie themselves, in the least exciting screen sequence ever recorded on celluloid.

The Black Knight’s delivery is pure Darth Vader, minus the asthmatic wheeze. I actually think less of James Earl Jones now that I’ve seen this, though to be fair, his dialogue always had to be timed to match Dave Prowse’s original on-set line readings, which, if you’ve seen his work as the Green Cross Code Man, you might expect to hamper any attempt at thespic dexterity.

Captured again, Galahad and Bors are tied to trees. Galahad manages to get one hand free. The outlaws, for all their camping skills, suck at tying knots.

“Modred” [sic] is a bad guy, that’s good to know. With a shifty Merlin, one wonders what other mythic outrages will be perpetrated. But I feel you can’t really do a whodunnit with a character called Modred in it. Also, he has a double-headed vulture on his doublet.

Pit and the pendulum style suspense! Well, pendulum, anyway. Instead of a whopping axed blade, we get a spiked iron ball, slowly swaying. I think it’d take a while to kill you, actually. In fact, I’m not even certain it WOULD kill you, if you’re wearing chain mail, which Galahad is. Still, as a cliffhanger, I’ll take it.

Once again, Bors comes to the rescue — and gets to say “Let’s hasten outta here!”

In the middle of a battle, my file of GALAHAD suddenly switches to some people in 1940s clothes sitting talking about secret weapons, evidently a scene from a different serial that’s gotten muddled in, and the most interesting thing that’s happened in more than three and a half hours:

Then GALAHAD starts up again. But now I have new hope — maybe there’ll be another surreal glitch? I can only pray for it. Anyone recognise these sofa people?

An obvious dummy falls off a cliff — always a favourite moment.

Bartog, the paunchy Robin Hood, gets gut-punched by Bors. Very satisfying moment. I’ve been staring at the unsightly way the guy’s belly hangs over his belt, and longing for someone to slug him there. Bors, who is much heavier is the perfect man to do it, so that it doesn’t seem fattist.

Some passable plotting: Bartog, a prisoner, refuses to reveal where the kidnapped Guinevere is held. Galahad disguises himself in the Black Knight’s armour to get the dope. Funny how, when this Arthurian romance isn’t behaving like a western, it’s basically an espionage drama. Cloak and dagger with actual cloaks and daggers.

Suddenly, Merlin is on Galahad’s side. For no reason. Galahad has to find the Lady of the Lake, who will give him Excalibur to give to Arthur. However, he will “face many perils” because she’s going to appear somewhere completely inaccessible. Because she’s a bitch.

The “many perils” prove to be some vines. See! George Reeves deliberately entangle himself in them! Like Jerry Lewis with a fire hose or Bela Lugosi with octopus tentacles. And then See! George Reeves maliciously thump the vines with his sword after he’s gotten free, like Basil Fawlty berating his stalled car with a branch. Chivalric peevishness of the highest order!

Happy ending! Bad guys defeated, Excalibur and Guinevere and Camelot returned to Arthur, who will clasp one, embrace another and live in the third. Work it out for yourselves. Merlin says “If my actions were strange, they were meant only to prove Modred a traitor and Galahad a true knight.” He had an interesting way of doing it, trying repeatedly to get G for George killed. I feel like it was probably unusual for serials to make absolutely no sense, so the makers of TAOSL are innovators in their own inept, feckless way.

Then, in order to end on a comical “they all laughed” original Star Trek type cheese-fest, Morgane makes Sir Bors explode and rematerialise hanging helplessly in the air, a dopey Harkonnen, while everyone mocks him. Bors, who has been Galahad’s only loyal friend throughout this strenuous four-hour ordeal. But he’s fat, so it has to be done.

Maybe I should have been watching The Adventures of Sir Lancelot instead? Or anything else at all? Lance was a 1956 UK TV show featuring such idols as Edward Judd and Derren Nesbitt. The list of directors, including Arthur Crabtree, Lawrence Huntington, George More O’Ferrall and Bernard Knowles, is a veritable Who’s That? of filmmaking talent.

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8 Responses to “The Death of the Arthur: Ever get the feeling you’ve been Galahad?”

  1. You bring to mind my favorite line from any movie serial: “There’s a grenade in the glove compartment. You’d better use it.”

    Because of course, who DOESN’T keep a grenade in the glove compartment, and who WOULDN’T think the best way to dislodge a pursuer who’s clinging to your rear bumper is to throw a grenade at the back of your car?

    Hey, if it can dislodge you from quicksand, why not?

    Falling dummy .GIF oddly mesmerizing.

    Even if the final installment of Galahad Quest hadn’t ended on a “high” note yours certainly did.

  2. bensondonald Says:

    If you want a serial that’ll hold your attention, I again suggest “The Lost City”. As racist and all-around problematic as hell, but one that can claim actual insanity instead of mere incompetence or indifference. Among other things, the mad scientist’s big white henchman spends the entire serial in a silver speedo.

    “Pirate Treasure” is more like real fun, with its short, enthusiastic hero making it feel like a boy’s adventure story. It’s set in the present (early 30s), but does lift some devices from “Treasure Island”.

  3. I keep meaning to watch The Lost City. I think I watched The Phantom Empire by mistake, but I enjoyed it.

    Do you remember which serial had the grenade?

  4. please, please give The Shadow with Victor Jory and a supporting cast for familiar yeggs a turn…I would very much like to read the Cairn treatment

  5. The well-equipped motorists are from “Zombies of the Stratosphere” if memory serves.

  6. “Cairns” treatment — I contain multitudes.

    I was excited by the title of Zombies of the Stratosphere but of course it couldn’t live up to that.

    OK, The Shadow and The Lost City are on the list, for as soon as I’ve recovered from Galahad.

  7. In the first of your mystery photos, the guy on the far left looks like Kane Richmond, who made a bunch of serials, including The Lost City.

  8. Then it could be 1947’s Brick Bradford, which has Pierre Watkin as a weapons inventor, and that looks like him in the clip! Thanks!

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