Twentieth Century Fox put Robert Wagner under contract in 1950 and soon began to put him into leading roles which required him to do nothing more than look handsome and flash his pearly white smile. The purest example of building an entire film around of these two attributes is undoubtedly Beneath the Three Mile Reach but it also carries over in Prince Valiant which has a little more meat to it but not much.
It’s based on the syndicated comic strip created in 1937 by Hal Foster about the exploits of Prince Valiant, heir to the Norse kingdom of Thule. The story of the film, concocted by veteran Hollywood screenwriter Dudley Nichols from the early years of the strip, tells of Prince Valiant’s journey to Camelot and his quest to become a Knight of the Round Table. Needless to say, things become complicated when our hero discovers a malevolent plot against King Arthur hatched by the wicked Sir Brack, played by an obviously disengaged James Mason.
The weakness of the film is its episodic structure which ensures that we are aware of where things are going long before the rather slow Prince. The strength is Henry Hathaway’s sure and careful direction which keeps the story rattling along without too many longeurs. If you’re occasionally aware that you’ve seen all this before in better films, you’re rarely bored because Hathaway knows how to keep you involved. He also uses the Cinemascope frame very well, packing it with background incident and making the most of the width, particularly during the climactic sword fight. The accents are mostly pure 1950s Hollywood-English, with the obvious exceptions; Sterling Hayden as Sir Gawain is a key offender here but he’s so likeable that it’s not hard to forgive his very American delivery.
Eureka’s Blu Ray disc of Prince Valiant released in 2010, is something of a mixed bag. The 1080p transfer is presented in the correct Cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.55:1 and is encoded with MPEG-4 AVC. The problem seems to be that the quality of the print used for the transfer is rather poor. This can particularly been seen in the colours which are slightly faded throughout and certainly not as eye-popping as they should be for a major studio film of this vintage. I have no problem with the level of grain but the lack of fine detail becomes very noticeable in places. Whether the film could look any better without a full restoration is a moot point but I suspect that Eureka have done their best with what was made available to them. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 soundtrack is more consistent and makes particularly good work of Franz Waxman’s dynamic music score. English subtitles are provided. The only extra feature is the enjoyably dated theatrical trailer.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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