Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
ZERO STARS/**** Image D+ Sound C-
starring Miles O'Keefe, Cyrielle Claire, Leigh Lawson, Sean Connery
screenplay by Stephen Weeks and Philip M. Breen and Howard C. Pen
directed by Stephen Weeks
by Walter Chaw A film that is actually exactly bad enough to be uproariously funny, Stephen Weeks's Sword of the Valiant: The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (hereafter Sword of the Valiant)--peculiarly, Weeks's second adaptation (after 1973's Gawain and the Green Knight) of The Rose Poet's fourteenth century Arthurian epic "Gawain and the Green Knight"--is one of those Golan-Globus productions that helped redefine the bottom of the barrel in the early Eighties. It gives Miles O'Keefe of Tarzan the Ape Man fame a short-lived and wholly unjust stay of career execution (decking him out in a Prince Valiant wig that makes him look suspiciously like Mary Worth with abs), and it furthers my contention that Sean Connery is pretty much just the Scottish Burt Reynolds. I'm not sure what Weeks and company had in mind when embarking on this project, but the result is something so deeply stupid as to inspire hopefulness and hopelessness in equal draughts: anyone can do it, apparently--but is it worth doing if it turns out to be Sword of the Valiant?
Squire Gawain (O'Keefe) is the only man brave enough in King Arthur's (Trevor Howard) moribund Camelot to accept the challenge of mysterious drag queen the Green Knight (Connery): take one swipe at his neck with his mighty axe and, should the knight be capable thereafter, allow him to take one swipe at yours. A classic call to action for Joseph Campbell's hero's journey is then promptly perverted in Sword of the Valiant into a sword-and-sorcery cheese factory that reminds of nothing more than Clash of the Titans without Ray Harryhausen--let's face it, without Harry Hamlin. Because Gawain is such a strapping young moron, the Green Knight gives him one year to try to decipher a ridiculous riddle to save his life; thus Gawain sets out with his faithful squire (he's been knighted by Arthur for stepping up to the plate); promptly tries to kill a unicorn for food ("It's magic! So it must taste good!"); falls in love with a leading lady (Cyrielle Claire) who almost makes O'Keefe appear sentient; banters wittily with a bawdy friar (Brian Coburn); and strong arms a dwarf sage (David Rappaport). The sword-fighting choreography resembles stuff my little sister and I worked out with cardboard tubes on Christmas morning (it's not a stretch to imagine the actors providing their own clanging and clashing noises), while the special effects are a notch above scratching the negative and pretending.
With neither budget nor imagination, Sword of the Valiant almost works like a Monty Python satire, its sets probably left over from a bigger production and its cast of tens recycled, Gymkata-like, for every scene requiring more than two or three principals. The editing is incoherent, there's no feeling that time ever passes, and when it comes time at last for Gawain to meet his maker, the payoff is so arbitrary that you don't feel so much cheated as surprised for all the wrong reasons. O'Keefe is abominable, it goes without saying (ditto: Connery), but the real tragedy is the mutual squandering of Peter Cushing (in an eyeblink cameo) and John Rhys-Davies, who must have been wondering how it was that Raiders of the Lost Ark didn't open any doors for him. Sword of the Valiant is classic Bad Cinema, serving as both cautionary tale and guilty pleasure. Taken with O'Keefe's two Ator flicks, it's the equivalent of a night of heavy drinking and a sharp jab into the soft prefrontals.
MGM presents Sword of the Valiant on DVD in a pan-and-scan transfer with terrible picture-quality besides. It looks and sounds worse than something tuned in with an antenna: all the colours are muted, the flesh tones are frighteningly orange, the contrast is way off--and damned if a few scenes aren't completely out of focus. (In fairness, the image is fairly free of grain.) A Dolby Surround soundmix gives the impression that the film was recorded inside a bucket; I'm willing to wager, however, that a large part of the technical fault lies in Weeks's genuine incompatibility with his chosen vocation. I will also take the controversial stance that Sword of the Valiant is probably better this way than in it would be in a more respectful incarnation: the expectations attached to a home release this slipshod are lower than the studio's estimation of who might want to own a copy. The accompanying 2.35:1 trailer has video that's superior to any single moment from the body of the movie proper but still does nothing to make the film seem more competent than Unidentified Flying Oddball merged with Masters of the Universe. Originally published: May 11, 2004.
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