The Black Shield of Falworth
I reviewed the DVD of The Black Shield of Falworth just under a year ago and was far from impressed with the acting, picture, script and other facets of the film. It was therefore a surprise that Eureka chose to release it on Blu-ray but I wanted to see it again and find out how well the 55 year old CinemaScope picture fared in high definition.
This is predictable enough fare, an American romantic action drama teaming then husband and wife Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh (in one of the six films that they made together during their 11 year marriage) as a commoner and a lady who find themselves drawn to one another in a love that cannot be. Of course we all know it can and will be and they will, as in all good fairy stories, live happily ever after.
Curtis plays a peasant, Myles, who travels from Crisby Dale with his sister, Meg, to deliver a letter to the Earl of Mackworth when he is forced to flee after picking a fight with an influential lord. The Earl sees something in the letter that makes him view Myles in a different light and the rambunctious commoner wants to uncover his own history which has something to do with a crest on a ring that belonged to his father. The Earl puts Myles under the tutelage of Sir James, the one-eyed instructor at Mackworth castle who seeks to harness the young man's energy and talent and turn him into a fighter of note.
Myles excels in training but his temperament sees him in frequent fights with other trainees, especially Walter Blunt who took an instant dislike to the man from Crisby Dale. Meanwhile, Myles falls for the Earl's daughter, Lady Anne, for whom Meg is working as a handmaiden, but Anne is promised to Blunt as soon as he is knighted as a way to unite two rival families. Myles did make one friend on arrival, Francis Gasgoyne, another trainee who has taken a shine to Meg and the two start seeing their respective beaus in secret.
The scene is set for Myles to discover his true heritage, defeat Sir Walter and marry the woman he loves.
Last year I thought that The Black Shield of Falworth was spectacularly daft and my opinion hasn't changed. There are a fine array of accents as some of the Americans don't seem to even attempt an English accent, and Tony Curtis is wonderfully inconsistent, sounding somewhere between the Bronx and Buckinghamshire!
The acting is similarly hammy and pantomime-esque, not helped by a ridiculous, trite, script - I found myself doing an MST3K voice-over during parts of the movie! Crisby Dale is such a daft American invention of a medieval English place and it made me think of Crispy Duck every time I heard it! This is the sort of film Monty Python parodied in The Holy Grail.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy this, as I found myself smiling at some of the more clichéd elements and it's not a film without its charms. Rudolph Maté will never be recognised as a great filmmaker and it's unlikely that one of his movies will be released by Eureka under their Masters of Cinema label, but The Black Shield of Falworth is unchallenging and enjoyable, a perfect guilty pleasure.
This was Universal International's first CinemaScope film and it shows. There is very little camera movement and the colours are surprisingly muted and, oddly for a film directed by Rudolph Maté, the great cinematographer who worked on such films as Dreyer's Vampyr and Welles' The Lady From Shanghai, the cinematography isn't great - but then he's not the cinematographer!
The transfer is fair enough, but the picture is a little soft and the matte paintings and period design are unconvincing, but this is to be expected from a film like this - no-one believed that Errol Flynn was in Sherwood Forest in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Compared to the DVD, the colours are fantastic and it looks wonderful for a film of this age. The costumes are great and typical for a 1950s fantasy film, there's nothing particularly different between this and Robin Hood, with all flattered by their attire!
I was hoping for a flawless picture and wasn't overly let down by what I saw though there is a consistent amount of white spotting and the fades between scenes have a grainy look. I imagine that this is as good as the film is ever going to look and the fact that it is in the correct CinemaScope aspect ratio (compared to the DVD which was panned and scanned into 1.78:1) is a massive plus. I quick comparison between this and the DVD shows what a step up the HD transfer is, with a great deal more clarity, sharpness and vibrant colours.
The disc has a clear Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack, with a rather OTT score and the fight scenes are almost cartoonish, reminding me a lot of when Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer used to hit each other with frying pans! Just as on the DVD there are no subtitles.
Based on my previous experience, I thought that watching this would be a chore, but I have to admit to thoroughly enjoying The Black Shield of Falworth this time around. I imagine that this isn't a film that is meant to be taken seriously and is just a piece of escapist fun where evil is foiled and the guy gets the girl (or in this case, guys get the girls).
If you held off from buying the DVD and still want to give this a try, Eureka have a reasonable RRP and the picture, in its original aspect ratio, looks very good in high definition. Just to illustrate the stark difference between the DVD and Blu-ray, compare the images below.