The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Knights of the Round Table

King Arthur. Lancelot. Guinevere. The Round Table. One of history's most legendary stories. Everyone is aware of it in some form or another. (Right? Eh, if you haven't, I feel bad for you). This is not a story that's easy to mess up, or so you'd think. A big, flashy Cinemascope movie for MGM, 1953's Knights of the Round Table is a boring, heartless mess. Please keep reading anyways though.

As England tears itself apart with in-fighting, a knight named Lancelot (Robert Taylor) travels the land looking for the legendary knight and fighter, Arthur (Mel Ferrer). While powerful lords fight over the country, Arthur seeks to unite the regions and their people, claiming his right as King of England who pulled the sword Excalibur from the stone. Lancelot and Arthur unite, forming a one-two partnership to lead England to a reign of prosperity. Their opponents won't let anything come easy though, and true love might come between the duo as Lancelot falls in love with Guinevere (Ava Gardner), Arthur's childhood love and wife-to-be.

From director Richard Thorpe, this is a movie intended to be seen on a big, big screen. In 1953, the widescreen format was still in its infancy, but producers, studios and directors intended to blitz viewers with this new format. The screen became literally BIGGER. You could see more, appreciate more, and marvel at what took place on the screen. And looking at this movie that way, it's a success...well sort of. The screen is always full of actors, countless extras and extravagant sets and costumes. That's also the problem. The camera rarely zooms in on faces, keeping at a distance. Outdoor scenes are unnaturally transitioned to obvious, indoor sets. It's jarring sometimes, wasting some of the on-location shooting at Tintagel Castle in England.

Those problems are fixable though, or at least tolerable with the right, correctly-handled movie. Unfortunately, this ain't that movie. With such memorable, interesting characters, I can't think of a more dull story being possible. More on the casting later, but there is absolutely no personality in the story or the characters or anything for that matter. Covering many years without any sense of time passing, a 115-minute long movie feels much longer. Some scenes are meant to impress and dazzle with their scale (a battle populated by hundreds of extras, a wedding festival), and they do a little, but by 2012, I've seen better. It's a cold, heartless movie that I'm assuming was meant to impress an audience. Impress is one thing, interest is another.

With a screenplay from three writers and a story about the legendary King Arthur and the creation of his Round Table, I expected at least a little more from the cast. Maybe it's not their fault as actors, and maybe it's just the lousy script that gives them and the story nothing to do. With the right performance (Devil's Doorway, Savage Pampas), Taylor was a good actor, but he's downright dull as Lancelot. The same for Mr. Wooden, Mel Ferrer. I didn't think it was possible to make King Arthur and Lancelot this boring. Gardner is wasted, a woman torn by her two loves. Stanley Baker is the necessary conniving bad guy with his mother (apparently, I couldn't tell) played by Anne Crawford. Merlin is played by Felix Aylmer with Arthur's knights a faceless bunch that left no impression.

Not much else to rip here. It's a very clean, manicured Arthurian time with immaculately suits of armor and duded-up horses. I was bored from the start, and things don't pick up at any point along the way. Steer clear of this one.

Knights of the Round Table <---TCM trailer/clips (1953): */****

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