Archive for The Adventures of Sir Galahad

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 Death of the Arthur: Knights of the Two Semi-Circular Tables

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 27, 2023 by dcairns

Cornel Wilde’s SWORD OF LANCELOT (1963) is on YouTube, so I had a look.

Wilde’s THE NAKED RUNNER PREY has a decent reputation, I feel. Criterion released it, though that was in the early days and possibly it was cheap. His NO BLADE OF GRASS is an ugly mess, botching a compelling John Christopher apocalypse novel. It’s possible that he only found the right kind of material once, because LANCELOT ain’t it.

There’s a lovely brutish insensitivity to his directorial choices which may be instructive. The opening credits play out over still photographs by the great Karsh. The idea of getting a world-class photographer to shoot your stills is a fine one — Kubrick was about to do the same by getting Weegee to shoot the set of STRANGELOVE. Showcasing the results in the movie itself proves to be a very silly idea: there’s a reason why period movies often use archaic fonts or calligraphy, old-fashioned illustrations, scrolls and stuff. Photos (and photomontages, as here) feel modern. Karsh’s images make me feel like I’m looking at either set photography, in which views of the camera crew, boom operator or script supervisor would not be out of place, or at news pictures of a historical reenactment society on manoeuvres. The film might as well begin with a caption in some Gothic text saying AD 1963.

Wilde, leading man as well as director, has, however, come up with a plan that aims to keep him from sticking out like fellow Americans Robert Taylor in KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE or Alan Ladd in THE BLACK KNIGHT. Lancelot is French. Wilde will play him weese un out-rah-jos Franche ack-sont. It’s a bold effort and probably not the worst French accent ever. (Lancelot is never played by an actual Frenchman, except in Bresson’s LANCELOT DU LAC where everyone else is French also. But if Franco Nero can play French — STOP PRESS he can’t — Wilde is entitled to have a go.)

The rest of the casting is erratic and unstellar, though Wilde has noticed that the lovely Reginald Beckwith (above, far right) — the comedy medium from NIGHT OF THE DEMON — is at heart a medieval man, so he’s positioned him as a court jester. It’s never been recorded that Arthur had one, but after all why shouldn’t he?

Good big set for CAMELOT, but Wilde’s attempts to explore it with camera moves are hesitant, wobbly and un-epic. The round table is two C-shaped bits, which is just nuts.

Disguising Wilde’s accent leaves the only other American, Wilde’s wife irl, Jean Wallace, awfully exposed as Guinevere. She’s introduced as mute witness at a joust, which Wilde stages better than the dialogue scenes, with decent build-up, ritualistic presentation of the weaponry, etc. I’m waiting for her to sound like Lina Lamont.

To prepare us for this jarring moment, Wilde carefully seeds the trial by combat with shots of extras wearing ludicrous nylon wigs.

He does get away with quickly including a rear projection shot of himself charging on horseback — filmed tight enough and cut quick enough that it’s not too distracting, and we don’t see the stuffed horse he’s being bounced around on. It’s effective enough that it MIGHT actually be a location shot with Wilde seated on a dolly (which would have made a great behind-the-scenes snap for the opening titles).

And then, the duel ends with a surprisingly graphic sword chop down through the opposing champion’s helmet, anticipating the gore effects of Bresson and Gilliam. Wilde seems to be most at home with violence — the most facile form of cinematic drama. Still, I enjoy a good head-cleaving as much as the next sedentary pacifist. It’s also fun to imagine the effects team lovingly packing the helmet with meat and bags of finest Kensington Gore. The out-takes would be amusing to see also.

Finally JW gets a line, as Lancelot escorts Guinevere to be married to Arthur. It’s decently worked out as a story — better than CAMELOT. The young knight gets a chance to make an impression on the Queen-to-be BEFORE she meets her much older spouse (Arthur is Brian Aherne). Wilde’s co-writer is Richard Schayer, who had a hand in FRANKENSTEIN back in ’31, and wrote the story for THE MUMMY the following year, which would be more impressive if that story weren’t a straight rip of the Lugosi DRACULA.

And Wallace copes well — she’s discernibly American but is talking as far back in the throat as possible, and managing to interpolate some vaguely English vowels. Pretty creditable and not as distracting as Wilde’s ‘Allo ‘Allo! performance.

Delivered into a studio pond for a sexy swimming scene with Lancelot (who has been established as the first man in England to use soap, giving him another erotic advantage over smelly old Arthur), Wallace is required to shout instructions to her maidservant, at which point her attempts at an accent falter and her inner Lamont emerges a little.

The costuming department has done some interesting and innovative work to enable Wallace to appear in a wet and clinging shift without offending, or poking, the censor’s eye with verboten mammary papilla. It’s quite hard to figure out what’s going on here — the bosom seems to have support, and be covered with more than the filmy fabric seen on the upper slopes. It looks to be a somewhat concealed cantilever bra. This of course would be an anachronism, but the attempt at boundary-pushing sexiness suggests to me that Wilde may have been more actively involved than previously suspected in the celebrated moment in THE BIG COMBO where co-star Richard Conte descends out of frame while kissing Wallace. Director Joseph E. Lewis claimed credit for the innovation and said Wilde, producer as well as star, wasn’t in on it. But now I wonder. Sex and violence seem to be Cornel’s bag.

Against my better judgement, I’m going to finish watching this. Which means this piece is now —


Maybe I can do some kind of crazy joint review with the last hour of ADVENTURES OF SIR GALAHAD?

The Death of the Arthur: Sleepy Time Galahad

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , on January 20, 2023 by dcairns

Well, Galahad’s ring of invisibility proves to be a bust. When he tries to use it, he’s under attack from this Black Knight character (who has all his limbs, unlike the helmeted torso of the same name in MONTY PYTHON), who is wielding the stolen sword Excalibur. We get a noise as of radio interference and the sword glows with an animated halo effect, like Lon Chaney Jr. in MAN-MADE MONSTER, and then Galahad quite simply falls over.

Elsewhere in this episode, Merlin paves the way for another Cleese character, Tim the Enchanter, by appearing and disappearing with the aid of explosions. It’s standard panto trickery, but the PYTHON scene retroactively makes it comical. The Pythons rendered quite a few things hard to take seriously, from Arthuriana to the Spanish Inquisition.

Galahad and Bors continue to get capture, escape, and get captured again. Bors is untiringly supportive of Galahad, and Galahad never misses a chance to fat-shame his chunky sidekick. It’s a vivid reminder of how obnoxiousness was the norm in the middle ages nineteen-forties.

The rewriting of Merlin as a baddie is an atrocity of course. It may be a result of postwar conservatism in the US, resulting in a suspicion of intellectuals and other wizards, bearded men generally. Or, it may be that this is all a trick, Merlin testing the young Galahad with a series of Herculean feats the young would-be knight and future Superman must perform.

Check out the stellar sound work in this exciting battle. They’ve got, I think, some genuine clashing swords FX produced on the day of filming by the stunties whacking at each other, and they’ve enhanced it I think with a library record of general purpose aggressive ironmongery. But at a certain point someone’s discovered they need more than just blade striking blade — these are knights in armour, after all (though it’s mostly chainmail). So they’ve got a bunch of pots and pans and are sort of randomly clattering them about, perhaps on a blanket they make a kind of hand-held trampoline out of. Once you notice it, you can’t unnotice it.

Here’s a GREAT bit of slapstick magic from later in the same Donnybrook:

If only the serial had more of this fine stuff.

As a cliffhanger goes, you can’t beat quicksand (well, you can’t beat hanging off an actual cliff, but if the scenery falls short of mountainous, quicksand is a decent fallback option). This might be oatmeal or something rather than quicksand proper, but is that really any more desirable if you’re wearing full armour?

One hour of this muck to go. I WILL finish it soon!