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Black Shield of Falworth

 
 
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The Black Shield Of Falworth
cast: Tony Curtis, Janet Leigh, Barbara Rush, Dan O'Herlihy, and Patrick O'Neal

director: Rudolph Maté

95 minutes (PG) 1954
Eureka DVD Region 2 retail
[released 10 November]

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by J.C. Hartley
It is a curiosity that in this self same year Alan Ladd travelled to England and made The Black Knight, in which he played a blacksmith righting wrongs in a breastplate and a short-sleeved jerkin, with no chain mail in sight, so that in consequence he looked like he was wearing a T-shirt. At 40, Ladd was perhaps a little old to be playing that kind of swashbuckling romantic lead; Tony Curtis (Insignificance, The Boston Strangler), a few months before his 30th birthday, is nearer the money; even if his accent does make it sound a little bit like a Bronx Yankee at the court of King Harry.

The Black Shield Of Falworth was Universal-International's first feature in Cinemascope; with colours almost hallucinatory in their garishness. The action is largely confined indoors with little location work off the lot. On a hunting trip the ageing Henry IV (Ian Keith, Nightmare Alley) needs must curtail his exercise, whereupon his host, the Duke of Alban (David Farrar, The 300 Spartans), is flattered to hear from his hangers-on that he will soon be the most powerful man in England. The Duke and his entourage stop at a humble farm to partake of some refreshment and one of the Duke's lackeys makes lecherous advances to the young peasant girl he finds there: he is soundly beaten by the girl's brother Myles (Curtis) who also knocks about the Duke's guards. Myles, his sister Meg (Barbara Rush, It Came From Outer Space), and their companion Diccon, make their escape to the local monastery, where the Abbott gives them a letter of introduction to the Earl of Mackworth. The Abbott explains that the Earl owes the youngster's father a favour. The siblings know nothing of their parentage and Myles in particular is eager to know his birthright.

Myles and Meg arrive at Mackworth, immediately falling foul of senior esquire William Blunt (Patrick O'Neal, The Stepford Wives); by innocently aiding the Lady Anne (Janet Leigh, Psycho) win a horse race against him. The young pair must wait to attend the Earl (Herbert Marshall, The Fly) as he is entertaining the foppish Prince Hal (Dan O'Herlihy, RoboCop 2) who is working his way through the wine cellar. It is revealed that the Prince's behaviour is a ploy to convince those who would seize power in England that he is a wastrel. When presented to the Earl it is clear that Mackworth is aware who Myles and Meg really are. While Meg is placed with the serving women, she soon becomes a companion for Lady Anne by dint of her independent spirit, while Myles is put to train with the esquires, immediately becoming involved in brawling when the senior esquires mock his lowly background. Soon however he is receiving training from Sir James (Torin Thatcher, Things To Come, The Crimson Pirate) and revealing himself to be both courageous and loyal. The Lady Ann, despite being affianced to William Blunt younger brother to the Duke of Alban, soon falls for Myles, while Meg is wooed by Myles' friend Francis Gascoyne (Craig Hill, Siege At Red River). Myles discovers the truth about his parentage, and his skill at arms becomes integral to the royal cause against the traitors and usurpers.

The Black Shield Of Falworth is an entertaining if predictable romp, highlighting the athletic ability of Tony Curtis who leaps about as if spring-heeled. The setbacks his character faces are fairly promptly overcome and, until the finale, he sees off most of his adversaries with his feet and fists. A romantic interlude in a garden with his then-wife Janet Leigh is made accidentally hilarious in that, while her outfit appears perfectly decorous, her nipples stick out like the spikes on a morningstar. Quite how they were smuggled past the Hays committee is a matter for conjecture.
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