Fox // 1969 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // September 8th, 2013
Maybe they need to make war as much as we make love.
In 1337, the King of England, Edward III, refused to pay homage to Philip VI, the King of France. Such an insult led to the confiscation of Edward's lands, who responded by declaring himself the rightful heir to the French throne. Thus began what became known as the Hundred Years War. By the time it ended in 1453, both armies were devastated and both societies were in upheaval. Through it all though, love was still able to blossom, at least according to Hans Koningsberger in his 1961 novel, A Walk with Love and Death and, a few years later, it was turned into a mediocre movie directed by John Huston (The Treasure of the Sierra Madre).
Sometime during the middle of the war, a young student named Heron of Fois (Assi Dayan, Time of Favor) leaves school and embarks on a journey to the coast to catch a ship and get away from all the death. Along the way, he seeks shelter with a sympathetic lord and, before he leaves the next morning, meets Claudia (Anjelica Huston, The Addams Family), the man's beautiful young daughter. His devotion to her is instant, and he continues on his journey in her name and with her blessing. Soon down the road, he discovers that the peasants have risen up and stormed the castle, forcing him to return and see if Claudia is still alive. To his relief, she is, and now he has a new mission: to protect Claudia until he can reach the sea and get her to safety.
Given that Anjelica Huston was still a teenager here in her first starring role, I have to say that she does a pretty good job in the movie, but that's the most excited I can get about A Walk with Love and Death. It's an attractive movie with a good looking pair of leads, with Dayan also doing fairly well in his own debut. The Italian and Austrian landscapes look very nice and John Huston's direction is perfectly fine, if most certainly not his best work.
It's pretty dull, though, with a pace like the last day of the Renaissance Fair, and an episodic nature that makes it move in fits and starts. Between Heron's first meeting with Claudia and his second, his travels bring him in touch with all kinds of motley characters, from wandering acting troupes to ruthless landlords. It makes the movie feel disjointed and, for nearly the entire first half of the movie, it seems like Huston's appearance might be just another vignette. When she shows back up, it finally gives some direction to the movie, but it's too little too late.
Ultimately, A Walk with Love and Death is a shallow teen romance surrounded by the specter of this war that never really comes much into play. Sure, it brings the pair through the plot, but all they wind up having to reckon with is the advances of a randy knight and an uncle who thinks the peasants might have been right all along. It's all in service of their love affair, as though that's the most important thing in the world. Of course, it is to them, but that doesn't make their struggle particularly interesting. The movie fits into the way director John Huston works, but it's certainly not up to his previous standards and is (at best) a minor entry in his cinematic canon.
A Walk with Love and Death comes to DVD from Fox as part of their Cinema Archives on-demand service. It's bare-bones; I expected that, but they really could have done a much better job on the release than they did. First, and worst, the image is full frame and, clearly from the "modified to fit your screen" card before the movie begins, this is just the old VHS transferred over to disc. Luckily, the image quality itself doesn't fare too badly. There's some damage here and there, but nothing too bad. Colors are somewhat soft and black levels aren't as good as they could be, but it could definitely be worse. Sound is average, at best. It's a flat mono mix with little dynamic range, but no surprises there. No extras on the disc.
A Walk with Love and Death is an insubstantial romance with a vague historical background that does little to give the movie any additional heft. Though it's not necessarily a bad movie, it's far from John Huston's best work and probably only has a market with completists. Too bad that crowd doesn't get a better release than this, but with these on-demand releases, you take what you get, I suppose.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Rated PG