Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The War Lord (1965)

I watched this movie set in medieval times for only one reason... okay, two reasons. 1) to see Richard Boone sword fighting, and 2) curiosity. Alas, I was gypped of number one! It appears his character favored either a mace or a flail. Damn. I've seen him fence in Have Gun-Will Travel, but I wanted to see him swinging a broadsword around. Yeah, I'm shallow like that sometimes, but I do so love my sword fights.

This was a movie that took itself a bit too seriously. Charlton Heston is the titular War Lord, and Richard Boone played a good guy for once, as his right-hand man. Guy Stockwell (Dean Stockwell's older brother!) played Heston's younger, ambitious brother, and Rosemary Forsyth was the maiden who captured Heston's heart. There's little plot to this one. Our War Lord, after serving the Duke for twenty years, is rewarded with a tower and a lousy, swampy chunk of land nobody else wants. But he's an honorable man and intends to hold it for the Duke against the Frisian (Viking) invaders. He falls for Ms. Forsyth, who is quite beautiful, and he evokes droit de seigneur on her wedding night to claim her for himself. (Although in his defense, he does offer to let her go before he even touches her, but she's fallen for him by that point and stays. Typical -- cue eye roll.) This causes the villagers to retaliate by deliberately inviting the Frisians back to attack the Normans. Big fight results.

The battles were by far the best part. Heston and Boone and their handful of soldiers are literally defending one lone tower against a horde of clever barbarians. The scenes are well done and quite tense. Battering rams, siege engines, catapults, fire, swords, arrows... they threw it all in. Richard Boone had one lovely scene where he rappelled down the back side of the tower to grab a sunken anchor out of the moat, and then climbed back up a rope to the top of the tower again -- with the bad guys shooting arrows at him, and a battering ram threatening to bust down the castle's front door. I was on the edge of my seat. Good, tense stuff.

The rest of the film, however... the movie is like an uneasy combination of old school romantic epic and the more modern violent realism of the late 1960's films. It's a bit uncomfortable to sit through at places. And as much as I love Richard Boone, it's a little weird seeing him in Medieval England (though no weirder than seeing him as Pontius Pilate in The Robe). He does wield a very mean club and can bark orders better than just about anybody, and I absolutely want him guarding my back in a fight. Charlton Heston belongs anywhere, anytime, so he was fine, but ye gods, the filmmakers were aiming for accuracy, so everyone's sporting those god-awful medieval bowl cuts that make everyone look like unattractive. There was some really nice dialogue in the film, and some really nice delineation between the life of the Normans and the life of their vassals, and what exactly it meant to survive in a world structured that way. Heston is honorable to the end, and... well, I'm not exactly sure what happens after "the end" popped up on screen, as it left things a bit hanging as far as the fate of one character. Hm.

Favorite scene (beside any time Richard Boone went into action, which kind of goes without saying), is when a wounded Charlton Heston leaned his head against Richard Boone's shoulder for comfort... just because that is an image I never expected to see in my life, and I'm still boggling over it.


  1. I have to confess, I don't watch alot of 60's films, so I have never heard of this one. And, I must also confess, I do not know who Richard Boone is off the top of my head. I am picturing Pontius Pilate, but I think I'm picturing the one in Ben-Hur (don't know his name). I can also picture the one in Jesus of Nazareth (Rod Steiger).

    I am willing to bet, however, that at some point in "The War Lord" Charlton Heston was shirtless. He seemed to have that written into his contract...almost every movie of his I've ever seen, he bares his chest. When my kids see a shirtless man, they always say "he's doing a Heston."

    Have a great day,

  2. Richard Boone is probably most famous for playing Paladin in the late 1950's-early 60's television series Have Gun-Will Travel. I know him also from a bunch of Western films. Very rugged and gruff man you don't want to mess with. His Paladin character is one I admire greatly for his honor and integrity and no-nonsense manner. Boone is one of my top ten favorite actors.

    And ROFL, that is so funny!!! I didn't really notice that, but you are right! Just about every movie I can think of, he goes shirtless in. And Charlton Heston was indeed shirtless in this movie too. Not only that, but he didn't have his britches on at one point either, and he charged into battle wearing nothing more than a loin cloth. Pure Charlton Heston! Richard Boone had to save his bacon, though.

  3. In that picture above, Richard Boone is the guy on the right with the beard and sleeveless armor.