The Black Shield Of Falworth Review
In the little village of Crosbey-Dale, Myles Falworth and his sister Meg (Barbara Rush) live peacefully. However, the arrival of the Earl of Alban (David Farrar) and his friend, Sir Robert (Leo Britt) spoil their peace and quiet. Demanding wine, the noblemen enter the farmhouse and, spying Meg, proceed to seduce her by force. Myles puts a stop to that, throwing the Earl of Alban and Sir Robert into the street. But having offended the Earl, they are forced to leave their home and to go into hiding. It is then that their guardian, Diccon (Rhys Williams) tells Myles that he and Meg are to leave Crosby-Dale immediately for Mackworth Castle. Diccon gives Myles a ring that bears a crest of a red griffin on a black background and wishes them well.
Even before their arrival, Myles falls foul of Walter Blunt (Patrick O'Neal), brother to the Earl of Alban and one who is training to be a knight. At Mackworth Castle, the squires, including Blunt, mock Myles' clumsiness. It is not long until Myles is brawling in the hallways of the castle, much to the horror of William, the Earl of Mackworth (Herbert Marshall), who had otherwise planned to welcome him. Myles, in order to have him do something, is sent to the barracks to enrol as a squire and, due to his lack of noble blood, to train as a man of arms under Sir James (Torin Thatcher). Meanwhile, Meg becomes a lady in waiting to Lady Anne (Janet Leigh). But Sir William notices something in Myles Falworth and in the ring that he bore when he arrived at the castle. Sir William remembers that there was an Earl of Falworth who was put to death for treason by the Earl of Alban. Sir William always protested the Earl of Falworth's innocence. Myles may indeed be of noble blood after all. And, together, they stumble on a conspiracy to murder the king.
Well, there is a plot to kill the king and for the Earl of Alban to take his place on the throne and to allow his wicked brother to seduce the lovely Janet Leigh but it comes late in the film. Indeed, it comes long after The Black Shield Of Falworth will have entertained you in grand fashion with a picture of medieval life so preposterous that it they could have had a spaceship land in the castle and it would have made little difference to the film. This is the medieval world that we saw only a glimpse of in Westworld, one in which noblemen feast on whole legs of lamb, quaff wine from crystal goblets and hack at one another's platemail armour with gleaming swords. Curtains hang throughout the castle, axes, maces and swords are always at hand and when not in their armour, everyone wears clothes of the brightest colours. And that's only the men. The ladies look even more wonderful. Janet Leigh has never looked lovelier and glides between scenes in a succession of outfits that might well convince you that Technicolor was the greatest of all inventions for the cinema, better even than the movie camera itself. And what fun they have. This is an entire film that takes its spirit from Errol Flynn laughing heartily at his being tossed in the river by Little John in The Adventures Of Robin Hood and in which Tony Curtis spends almost as much time romancing then-wife Janet Leigh as he does wrapping Walter Blunt in hangings and tossing him into the nearest medieval sideboard.
Yes, I like it. It's probably a minor film, certainly moreso than The Adventures Of Robin Hood and like the classic Errol Flynn adventure, anyone with an actual interest in the times it portrays would be better off looking elsewhere for their historical thrills but it is hugely entertaining. Castle Mackworth is not far off how Disney would imagine a medieval castle and the countryside of Crosbey-Dale is more California than Merry Olde England but these are more fitting to this story of love and revenge than had Curtis and Leigh been forced to wade through mud, straw and the odd peasant. In this, it's not dissimilar to Boorman's shining Camelot in his Excalibur but this is even more fanciful, with noblemen looking the other way as mere squire Myles Falworth scales the castle walls to romance the Lady Anne.
The real fun comes with Torin Thatcher's Sir James, a man who wears an eye patch and a bad temper and who makes a knight out of the thick-set farm boy that Tony Curtis is when he arrives at the castle. It's all typical hero-in-training stuff, with Sir James tripping Myles up until the boy can defend himself, of jousting with him, of tossing him to the ground in his platemail armour until his strength can bear its weight and of having him hack at wooden posts until he learns something of the art of combat. This occupies most of the film's running length but come the Earl of Alban (and his men) to Castle Mackworth, The Black Shield Of Falworth rouses itself for a gloriously entertaining ending, one in which Alban's men happily throw themselves on Falworth's sword and men at arms keep popping up over the battlements to be slain by those loyal to the king. Curtis may be no Errol Flynn and Leigh no Olivia de Havilland but if your Sunday afternoon scene is set with a fire, a crumpet and a film in which good fellows of ye olde world thrash the villains with sword and shield, then The Black Shield Of Falworth will entertain you as thoroughly as it did me.
Films sure don't look like this any more. And The Black Shield Of Falworth doesn't boast a particularly good transfer, more that the colours jump out of the screen more impressively than did William Castle's Emergo. Red is this film's strongest colour, it being brighter and more intense than any other, with the grey walls of Castle Mackworth doing their very best to make it stand out. Yet something's not quite right. For a start, what I little I've read on The Black Shield Of Falworth heralded the film as being Universal's first foray into Cinemascope. So it was something of a surprise to see a 1.78:1 image on my television and not one slightly wider. However, thanks to my colleague Mike Sutton's prompting to go have a look at From The Cheap Seats..., John Hodson, in this comment, secured an answer from Eureka! that Universal lost a significant amount of master prints in the fire earlier this year and that this version of The Black Shield Of Falworth was not the best version they could find but the only one available. Such news didn't spoil my enjoyment of The Black Shield Of Falworth - it's far too much fun for that! - but it is a pity that a superior version of this film no longer exists.
Otherwise, one shouldn't compare this DVD to The Adventures Of Robin Hood, which offers one of the very best transfers that you're ever likely to see but the image in this film doesn't come together quite how it should. The picture is slightly soft and appears to be missing detail in the backgrounds and characters. However, with colours as intense as this, it's still very good indeed and I doubt that anyone will find much complaint with it so long as they don't compare this to the very best restorations of archive releases.
The DD2.0 Mono is a good track. There's little fanfare to it, merely that it does a decent job of carrying the action and the dialogue but there's not a problem with it. The sound of sword on shield has a satisfying clank to it while there's a proper thud to the arrows that land on the king's throne. Similarly, the score, which veers between derring-do and lush romance, is carried well, leaving The Black Shield Of Falworth sounding very good. However, there are no subtitles.
There are no extras on this DVD.