Monday, May 10, 2021

Movie Knights - Prince Valiant!

Just watched (again) the classic film Prince Valiant starring Janet Leigh, Robert Wagner and James  Mason. It's been a long time, not since I first picked up my copy. Here is my review from that time.

"Believe it or not, I've never ever seen the 50's Prince Valiant movie. For whatever reason it's never ever played TV around me, and the few times I remember seeing the VHS I never popped for it. But reading the original Hal Foster strips recently got me in the mood and I ordered up a copy of the DVD from Amazon. I got around to viewing it several days ago. 

"Now I watch movies on a smallish TV, and that clearly wasn't what this Cinemascope flick was meant to be seen on. In a wonderful letterbox, this looks fantastic. It's a wonderfully rich visual movie and coming fresh off the Foster originals, it's easy to see that they really worked to keep the look and feel of the comic strip intact on the movie. Robert Wagner is Valiant and he looks the part well enough. Hayden Sterling is Gawain and Janet Leigh is Aleta. The acting by this trio is pretty okay most of the time, but Wagner is uneven, while Sterling is really broad. Leigh is beautiful as is Debra Paget as Ilene her sister, and they both do adequate jobs. James Mason as "Sir Brack" is clearly though the best actor in this thing and he dominates the screen every time he shows up. The only actor on par with him is Victor McLaglen as Boltar who has few scenes, but choice ones. Aside from the indifferent acting, though the setting is magnificent and the epic scale of the storytelling really works most of the time. The sprawling battle in the Viking castle with Sligon is outrageous and captures the feel of the comic strip perfectly, with Valiant bouncing around with is creative battle techniques.

"This ain't a great movie, but it's a really lavish and crisp adaptation of the comic. I'd have to say it's one of the best and most accurate adaptations of a comic I've ever seen and I've seen nearly all of them. Highly recommended."

Now my updated opinion. I was very harsh on this film when I first watched it nearly a decade ago. No doubt because it failed to live up to my expectations in some way. When I watched it this time, armed with a bit more information about its making I came away much more impressed with both the staging and the acting. The most difficult thing to ignore is Robert Wagner in that "page boy" haircut, it's one of those visual elements that works on the illustrated page that fails apart a bit in the real world, but it is a key element of visually cueing the character of Valiant.  I appreciated the performances of Janet Leigh and James Mason much more this time, each bringing a reality to some larger than life roles. As much as I admire Sterling Hayden in other roles, his turn as Sir Gawain is still in my opinion a bit too broad to fit in with is colleagues.  What really popped for me on this viewing was the magnificent settings and the successful realization of Hal Foster's images from the famous comic strip. This movie did indeed look like the comic strip come to life in most respects and that's an exceedingly difficult thing to pull off. 

Generally I was much better pleased with this classic flick. Highly recommended. 

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  1. I'd picked up a copy of this film sometime ago, but hadn't gotten around to watching it. Your review has given me the positive nudge I needed & I now look forward to an enjoyable evening of adventure, honor, romance, and the pleasure of a beloved comic strip bro8ght to cinematic life. :)

    1. I enjoyed much better the second time around. It does a credible job of translating the strip to film though it does have to change a few details to make the story coherent. Enjoy!