Archive for James Earl Jones

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

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Television with tags , , , , on January 28, 2023 by dcairns

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.

The Big Fight

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , on February 25, 2021 by dcairns

THE GREAT WHITE HOPE alternates wildly between the source play — big scenes with action artificially compressed to fit, which is the whole art of the theatrical drama — and vast cinematic spectacle — Martin Ritt and his expert team seem determined to spend as much money as possible. It rarely quite finds a happy middle of actual filmic drama. But there are moments:

It’s held together by James Earl Jones and Jane Alexander. Strong support too, but Jones is incredible.

Ritt himself advised against adapting plays for the screen: the playwright goes to the trouble of compressing all the action into a few rooms as possible, the filmmaker blasts the walls away and everything fades when the fresh air hits it, or else you get something like this where the “true story” claim, only halfheartedly made at the start (in a gag borrowed from BUTCH AND SUNDANCE: “Most of what follows is true”) gets undercut by all the furious contrivance devoted to lining up the balls for the Big Scenes, and then you get a huge set-piece in which hardly anything occurs. A bumpy ride. But worth taking.

THE GREAT WHITE HOPE stars Thulsa Doom; Bookkeeper; Rabbi Jacobs; Boston Blackie; Juror 12; Laureen Hobbs; Pruneface; Deep Throat; Mama Caleba; Booker T. Washington; Walter Winchell; Kemosabe; Rabbi Jacob; Superman; and Hong Kong Phooey.