The deadliest duel that Judge Erick Harper fought while watching this disc was a duel with sleep. He lost.
Sir, you are a liar, a coward, and a poltroon. En garde!
Deadly Duels presents the history of single combat in a series of three episodes. The first, "Duels of Chivalry," traces the origins of dueling, beginning with the Teutonic tribes that came to power as the Roman Empire fell. It continues on through the Middle Ages and the time of knightly chivalry. The second episode, "Duels of Honor," looks at the traditions of dueling as practiced by aristocratic gentlemen seeking to preserve their reputations through skill at arms. It also examines the traditions of dueling that survive to this day on university campuses in Europe. The final chapter, "Dueling in the New World," shows how this tradition took root even in an America that sought to uproot traditional European power and societal structures, and how the elements of dueling remained alive in the gunfights of the Old West.
Narrated by Stacy Keach, this documentary collection provides some interesting insights and information. For example, the original form of dueling was the barbarian holmganga in which the two opponents were stripped, lashed together face to face, and each given a nasty-looking dagger. Much time is spent discussing judicial duels or "trials by combat," legal exercises that assumed that God would fight on the side of the innocent but allow the guilty to be killed.
One of the more interesting nuggets to be gleaned from the programs on this disc is the dispelling of an old myth. For years, I have heard so-called history buffs talk about how a knight's armor was so heavy that if he were knocked to the ground, he was basically trapped and easy prey for any passing spearman. As one of the historical reenactors ably demonstrates, this was far from the case, and knights were able to get back to their feet and continue the fight with relative ease.
As interesting as this subject could be, it is presented in a standard talking-head format with a minimum of reenactments. Also, there is far more emphasis on the social structures and customs regarding dueling than on the combat itself. Perhaps I am in the minority, but I would have enjoyed seeing more time spent on tactics and weapons than on the nature of insults that might lead to a duel. The whole enterprise loses some steam about halfway through the second program with the introduction of firearms. Let's face it: pistol duels aren't nearly as interesting or fun.
The transfer looks good for a television documentary. The image is mostly sharp and clear, but there is some trouble with fine detail like foliage patterns, which tend to break down a bit. Audio is a nice, clear Dolby 2.0 Mono rendition that is adequate for the job.
Overall, the replayability of this disc seems relatively low. For what it is, i.e. a standard-issue television-style documentary, Deadly Duels is respectable but not outstanding nor particularly memorable. There are some interesting bits here, and the collection makes for mildly interesting viewing at least once, but those who would be inclined to watch it more than that are going to want something with a bit more depth and detail.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Wellspring Media
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