Saturday, January 22, 2011

Crossed Swords (1977)

While I'm in the realm of 1970's movies, I watched this film for the first time this week. This is what my sister would call a very definite "Deb Movie." It has all the sorts of things I love in my action movies, and I do believe I'll be picking it up on DVD when I can, just so I can watch the good bits whenever I want.

It's a bit of a mixed bag, but the good outweighed the bad and I found myself really enjoying this version of Mark Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper." I had no idea what to expect, honestly. I rented it because Oliver Reed was in it, and he did not disappoint. Seriously, throw Oliver Reed in a period movie with lots of sword fighting, and that'll make me happy right there. Give him excellent dialogue and an interesting plot and I'm even happier. Add in some lovely scenery and costumes. Then throw in a bunch of other great actors: Ernest Borgnine (in a nasty role as the pauper's father), and Charlton Heston (as Henry VIII!), Rex Harrison, Raquel Welch, George C. Scott... good lord, but this film is chock full of big names! And everyone of them turns in a great performance.

Crossed Swords is a familiar tale - pauper and prince look so alike, on a lark they switch places, not realizing how a simple change of costume will change everyone else's perception of them, rendering anything they try to say irrelevant. The prince is summarily tossed out of the castle, and the pauper has to pick up his place as Henry VIII's son. Soldier of fortune, Miles Hendon, helps the prince stay safe out in the tough streets of London and beyond, not believing Edward's claims of royalty, until he himself, is tossed and beaten out of his own house by his ratfink of a younger brother who has usurped his inheritance and intends to keep it by denying his brother's identity. Miles realizes the prince is indeed who he has claimed he was the entire time and sets about getting him to the coronation.

The weakest link in this film is, unfortunately, Mark Lester, the young man playing the lead dual role of Tom/Prince Edward. He's not terrible, and he doesn't derail the movie, but he's just... weak. He seems too old for the role. He's too deliberately awkward, and they could not possibly have given him more terrible wigs to wear. He's much more watchable when he's in Edward's shoes. The Tom character is far more annoying. Tom also has the added disadvantage of being in the lighter, "comedic" scenes, and comedy just doesn't appeal to me the way the more serious scenes with Edward do. The other light scenes are when George C. Scott appears as the Ruffler, a one-time monk now leading a band of outlaws and vagabonds. That scene is also played for comedy, and while Scott really does shine in his role, I just don't suffer comedy well, and that's a skippable scene for me when I rewatch this.

Back to the good...

Charlton Heston as a dying Henry VIII. I suppose it shouldn't surprise me that he can play such a famous monarch so well, but I was still surprised. He gets some great dialogue, and he delivers it so well. Color me impressed! He might be my favorite cinematic Henry VIII now.

The dialogue was very well done, smart, and with just the right sound to it. The script in general was very entertaining. It was a lot more violent movie than I expected, starting from the opening physical abuses Tom's father heaps on him, to the frequent sword fights, which were, with one exception, one man (Reed) against many. He sure got ganged up upon!! They weren't sword fights so much as brawls, but really, is there anybody who can brawl as well as Oliver Reed and be so believable about it? One thing I really loved about the fight sequences was how different each was, and how differently Miles Hendon (Oliver Reed's character) approached each set of opponents. From leery and careful with vicious Ernest Borgnine and his minions, to uncaringly recklessly angry with his brother and his minions. I was also impressed at how fairly Oliver Reed's character fought despite the continuing overwhelming odds against him every time. Dude, if an angry Ernest Borgnine character was coming at me swinging a cudgel, I sure as hell wouldn't reverse my sword simply because I wasn't facing a man with a blade. I'd run the bastard through before he beat the crap out of me, particularly with three other armed, scurvy goons jumping in the fray too! But Oliver Reed is playing a far more noble character, and so he does not do that, and, yeah, he gets the crap beaten out of him because he plays fair. I so dig it! It just makes me love his character more. I'm such a sucker for moral characters who stick by their code of honor and their word. This movie is so up my alley!

Oliver Reed... ahh, he gets to do all those Oliver Reed things he does best -- fight, deliver angry speeches in that deep, rough-'n-smooth, wonderful voice, get in trouble, get out of trouble, rescue the hero multiple times, and look good while doing it. He has a couple hilarious moments that completely busted me up. One is when he's trying to fit into his younger brother's clothes and they're too small (in a scene that reminds me of a story I once wrote...) and he rails at his brother, "Are you some kind of a midget??" Hm. Probably not funny out of context, but dang it's funny in the film. Another is when he tells the prince to stand back and let him do the fighting, as fighting is his trade. And Edward tells him very calmly, "Forgive me, Sir Miles, but I've seen you fight three times. Once, we ran away, twice you lost." The look on Oliver Reed's face is priceless. There's also a couple really awesomely done emotional moments, such as when he realizes Edward has indeed by telling him the truth about his identity, that he is the king. That's my favorite moment in the whole movie. I could watch Oliver Reed's reaction right there over and over and over. He's such a darned brilliant actor I just don't tire of watching (and learning) how he does things.

Ah, this movie really was made for someone like me!

The music is lovely. Less than thirty seconds into the main credits, I told the cat, "Maurice Jarre!" The man has the most unmistakeable and unique sound. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Jarre's film scores. This one was no exception. At first, it feels almost out of place, too distinctive, and it almost distracts from the movie, but it's still a catchy theme, and it grew on me so much that when it finally got used gently, beautifully, in an emotional moment, it just completely worked. And one thing I do love about him: his scores are never boring. There's more originality and beauty and creativity in one of his scores than in all of Hans Zimmer's scores combined. And if there's one thing I want most out of music, it's beauty. I own an LP of this score, which I wish I could play right now, instead of setting the movie to repeat the end credits over and over.

Lalla Ward plays a small role as Princess Elizabeth. I know her only as the second Romana from Doctor Who, so it was fun to see her in something different. She made a very good, strong Elizabeth, and has one silent moment with Charlton Heston that's another of my favorite parts of the film.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that this film has a bizarre epilogue of sorts, where the various characters' fates are revealed. No spoilers, but it was so out of the blue, I have to admit I laughed out loud at more than one of the characters' fates. Miles' future in particular, only because they could probably never have pulled that bit off with any other actor in the role but Oliver Reed. But because it is Oliver Reed, it works. It is very sad, and that doesn't mean I like it, but it works.

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