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Sword Of The Valiant
(1984)

Director: Stephen Weeks  
Cast:
Miles O'Keeffe, Sean Connery, Trevor Howard


When I was very young, my mother and father would often read various tales to me. Then when I was a little older, I would sit in front of the TV and be amazed by the various programs that I would see. Then a little later, I learned how to read, and I was able to pick up various books and other reading material, and being transfixed by whatever I read. It was also around that time that my parents first started to take me to the local movie theater, and I was amazed by what I saw on the giant silver screen. Today I still go to the movies, but I also on a regular basis check out various kinds of reading material and watch various programs on TV. There's no doubt about it - I am a sucker for a good story, no matter what medium it is presented by. Most likely you would agree with me with this belief. Likely you would also agree with me with my next statement, which is that I am open to a wide range of different kinds of stories. The fact that on this web site I review everything from slasher movies to art house dramas should have given you that idea even before I stated it. Granted, focusing on one particular kind of story does have its advantages. For one thing, it can make you a real expert on that kind of story. The web sites that I occasionally go to that are devoted to horror movies, for instance, really show that the movie critics really know their stuff. And I guess, with picking the topic of unknown movies, I am kind of limiting myself. But don't get me wrong - I watch many mainstream movies on a regular basis. Mainstream movies can not only be a lot of fun, they can be very informative of present culture as well as what culture was like in the past.

I got a little off topic with the last part of that previous paragraph, so I'll get back on track now with the topic of stories. I think it is very healthy to be exposed to a wide range of different kind of stories. Exposure to a wide range of stories is not only intellectually stimulating; it can also give you things like a sense of where you are and what you stand for. Even if the stories may not be true, you can learn a lot from them. I am not sure if the stories in the Bible are true, but a lot of them are not only great yarns, they can shape you into a certain kind of person. Then there are various legends that have popped up over the years about certain cultures' pasts. Even though I don't believe them, I usually find them very interesting since they have had a lot of influence on subsequent generations. There is one kind of legend telling, however, that I usually find both very boring and unappealing, and that happens to be stories about knights, King Arthur, and assorted other medieval sludge. Why do I dislike these stories so much? Well, it's probably from what I have learned about the era in history class. It was an age of filth, when people thought that bathing was unhealthy, and castle moats were not filled with pure water but instead the sewage of the castles' inhabitants. It was also an age where people were very narrow-minded and refused to be flexible about their thinking. If you were to say that the Earth revolved around the sun, boy, you would be in a lot of trouble with the local authorities. And the idea of wearing all that armor that the knights had to wear sure strikes me as being cumbersome and uncomfortable.

There are a lot more reasons why I am not attracted to stories about the era of the knights, but I won't bore you with a grand list of them. I'll just say that the idea of what people had to go through back then gives me the shivers and makes me glad I am living in the twenty-first century. So Sword Of The Valiantit probably comes as no surprise that I have not looked at many medieval-themed movies for this web site. The few that I have looked at each had some atypical aspect to them that promised they wouldn't be the same old thing. A friend told me that Hearts And Armour was so bad it was good (it was), Flesh + Blood was directed by Paul Verhoeven (Robocop, Total Recall), and The High Crusade and Star Knight had science fiction twists. So what were the reasons why I decide to give the King Arthur / Knights Of The Round Table-themed Sword Of The Valiant a look? Well, the fact it was a Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus production instantly made it appealing, but also its cast. Miles O'Keeffe in a movie with Sean Connery and Trevor Howard? Talk about eccentric casting! It goes without saying that the setting of the movie is medieval England, where an unnamed king (Howard, The Last Remake Of Beau Geste) that I assume to be Arthur rules the land with the help of his knights. At the same time, a lowly blacksmith's squire named Gawain (O'Keeffe, Escape To Grizzly Mountain) has dreams of one day joining the knights at their round table. One day, Gawain happens to be at the king's court when the mysterious Green Knight (Connery, The Offence) arrives, and gives the king's knights a challenge: Chop off his head if any of them can, but if possible, the Green Knight can return the favor afterwards. The knights sense something is up and all of them refuse. But Gawain offers to do so for the king. The king then knights Gawain, and Sir Gawain proceeds to chop off the Green Knight's head. But the headless corpse somehow picks up its lost head and places it back on! Gawain realizes that he's in trouble. But in an unexpected turn of mercy, the Green Knight says he will spare Gawain's life for a year. The Green Knight goes on to tell Gawain that if he can figure out the answer to a riddle before the year is up, the Green Knight won't then cut his head off. But it's a tough riddle: "Where life is emptiness, gladness. Where life is darkness, fire. Where life is golden, sorrow. Where life is lost, wisdom." With no clue as to the answer to the riddle, Gawain sets off on a year-long quest in the countryside to find the answer he seeks.

Sean Connery and Trevor Howard aren't the only actors of note who show up in Sword Of The Valiant. This mostly shot-in-England production showcases a number of notable British actors in supporting roles, including Ronald Lacey (Raiders Of The Lost Ark), David Rappaport (Time Bandits), Peter Cushing (Star Wars), and John Rhys-Davies (The Lord Of The Rings). For the most part, these supporting roles are not very big, sometimes just having the actors appear for just a few minutes. However, despite their limited screen time, these supporting actors all the same give professional performances that help to liven things up whenever one of them appears. So much so, that I wished that any of these actors and their characters had been the headline player of this enterprise instead of Miles O'Keeffe. I am not saying that O'Keeffe is absolutely terrible playing Sir Gawain - the fact that this production was of a (slightly) higher class than many of his straight-to-video efforts probably pushed O'Keeffe to give a better performance than usual. But all the same, there is a feeling while watching the movie that he is clearly out of his depth. Several times in the movie his character gets into a situation where he would clearly have to show a lot of emotion - shock, frustration, even love at one point. But during these moments in the movie, he doesn't get that much more emotional when he is simply wandering around the countryside between encounters with others. As a result, it's really hard to get involved with this character's struggles, because he doesn't give the audience any strong feelings. It doesn't help that he is forced for much of the movie to sport a Dutchman hairstyle that frankly looks ridiculous, a hairstyle that for unknown reasons is occasionally switched to that of what is found from a typical performer in a 1980s hair metal band.

But O'Keeffe isn't the only performer in the movie who looks absolutely ridiculous to the eye. Sean Connery also comes across as an incredibly silly sight. Though Connery (who, by the way, only appears in three or four fairly brief scenes during the entire movie despite his prominent billing) gives his character his trademark and infectious bluster, the makeup and costume department burden him with green glitter, a bushy wig, and an outfit that resembles green leaves stitched together. He looks more like The Ghost Of Christmas Present instead of a supernatural knight. But there is more to the movie that doesn't look right than with just O'Keeffe's and Connery's characters. The surrounding atmosphere at times also just doesn't feel right. To give director Stephen Weeks his due, he obviously shot the outdoor sequences when it wasn't spring or summer, and the landscape of mud and dead grass gives these parts of the movie a gritty feeling that really gives the viewer a feeling as to how cold and miserable medieval life must have been at times. Weeks also managed to shoot parts of the movie at actual castles. But it's in the interiors of these castles, as well as sets built to represent rooms inside of these castles, where Weeks stumbles. Everything in these locations looks too clean, too neat, as if a janitorial crew did their work in these interiors before the props (which also look too new) were brought in. There is not a feeling in these scenes that people have lived and worked in these locations for long and dirty periods of time. The feeling that you get is an artificial feeling instead of an authentic feeling. It's also distracting, and makes it difficult at times to pay attention to the actors in these scenes who are desperately trying to grab your interest.

But the sometimes ridiculous-looking characters, as well as the sometimes inauthentic atmosphere found in Sword Of The Valiant aren't the only things that distract you from the characters and what they are doing. What a movie like this needs is an epic musical score coming from a full orchestra, but what we get instead from composer Ron Geesin is a bunch of cheesy and oh-so-electronic-sounding sour notes throughout. Another thing that is distracting are a number of scenes where key linking footage was either not filmed or not edited in. A knight is seen being dragged on the ground by his horse on a flat plain, there is a quick cut to two other characters, and when we cut back the knight is suddenly rolling down a steep hill. Later in the movie, Gawain is stuck between the narrow space between the front doors and the portcullis of a castle with no way wide enough out. A woman passes him a piece of jewellery though a small space that will make him invisible. He becomes invisible, and in the next scene he's suddenly in a new location - how exactly did he get out? There are a lot more incomprehensible moments like that in the rest of the movie that are distractions from the story and the characters. But if one can get past such distractions, what about the story and characters? Not much, I can tell you. Even professionals like Connery and Howard can't hide the fact that all the characters in the movie are written to be very thin. While O'Keeffe's character may be the central figure and the movie's hero, we learn next to nothing about him or his way of thinking. That's bad enough, but what's even worse is that scene after scene passes by that will make you think at the end of each scene, "Just what was the point of what I saw in that scene?" This is one slow-moving quest. Long before Sword Of The Valiant reaches its end, you'll be wishing for more of those distractions I talked about earlier because although they may be silly and misguided, they contain more life and energy than the scripted elements.

(Posted March 31, 2015)


UPDATE: David Neale sent in this correction:

"You write that it was filmed in England. However, the castles used in the film are real ones, located in France and Wales: the two-towered castle is a French one (close to Compiègne and much larger than it looks in the film), whereas the large dark one looks like Caerffili in Wales; the doorway at which Wilfred Bramble plays doorkeeper is that of Castell Coch, also in Wales, and the highly decorated interiors of subsequent scenes also form part of that same castle.

"The coastal scenes might also have been filmed in Wales, though I can't be sure about this. In any case, very little seems to have been filmed in England.

"Unbelievable that such a rich cast could be used to produce such a poor film!"

Not for the first time, I had confused Wales with England. Thank you, David, for setting me straight.

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See also: Hearts And Armour, The High Crusade, Star Knight

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