Judge Neil Dorsett valiantly slays this Sean Connery fantasy flick.
"Let it not be said that I have not been chivalrous!"
Once upon a time there was a legend, and that legend took some time one late day to serve as the framing device for a silly series of fantasy adventures during the heyday of the mass popularity of the Dungeons and Dragons game, and that legend had a very bad day indeed. It ate too much potato salad and got sick behind a tree, and everyone laughed. The end.
Facts of the Case
Gawain (Miles O'Keeffe, Ator the Fighting Eagle) is a blacksmith's assistant in the castle of Camelot. His master creates a shining suit of armor for the King, who goes unnamed but is presumably Arthur since there appears already to exist a Round Table. This Round Table is experiencing a certain malaise; the king presumes that this is due to lassitude and cockiness based on their previous victories, and urges them to by God go out and do…something! He's not able to suggest much in the name of what should be done, but the king is clearly spoiling for action. By proxy.
Luckily, a strange Green Knight (Sean Connery, Highlander) happens into the court and offers a bizarre challenge! The Green Knight states that he will submit to a blow at the neck from his own mighty and sharp axe from any knight brave enough to deal the blow. The only condition: should the Green Knight be able, he is permitted to return the favor on the knight. Will any knight be brave enough to accept this seemingly simple challenge? It seems the answer is no.
Young Gawain happens to be in the court that day and, ashamed of the cowardly knights of the round table, volunteers. This tale, of course, is legend, though not exactly in the "ascendant page" form shown here. Gawain is knighted and beheads the Green Knight, who simply plops his head back down on his disgusting wax neck and picks up his axe, ready to behead Gawain in the name of his odd sport. However, he has a moment of mercy and stays his hand, telling Gawain that he has one year to solve a riddle or the consequences of the game will be borne through.
The film uses the Green Knight legend as a framing device for a series of knightly adventures featuring Gawain and his squire before returning to Connery at the end. There is a Princess to be rescued, an evil Lord (called Oswald and played by Raiders of the Lost Ark's torturer, Ronald Lacey), his assistant (John Rhys-Davies, similarly of Raiders as well as Lord of the Rings), a city in the sky, a magic ring, and generally all sorts of things to keep early-'80s young players of Dungeons and Dragons happy—or at least to in some way fulfill their expectations. Much silly and knightly behavior all around, delivered to you with the questionable English accent of Miles O'Keeffe. Huzzah!
Ah, the fantastic days of King Arthur! Or, err, well, the Green Knight legend is older than King Arthur, or something like that, but regardless: King Arthur and his knights of the Table Round! Well, it might be Arthurian times in this movie, or maybe somewhere in the early Renaissance, or…ah, hell, who cares, right? It's just a dumb fantasy flick from the '80s. Only, this one emblazoned itself with "The Legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" as a secondary title, so it's good to take a moment to reflect on how badly it presents that legend. Oh, it doesn't misrepresent it, you understand. The basic elements are there. They're just horribly distorted and put to poor use as a framing device for a very basic knight-and-princess tale starring the beefcakular Miles O'Keeffe, who literally has his shirt off from the word go. The man knew what his job was, you have to give him that. O'Keeffe spends the better part of the picture looking earnestly toward the horizon, which for me incited great gales of laughter. The other times, he looks grumpy. Except during the wonderful "can opener" jokes, where he wears a wry grin over his ability to extract his privates from the constrictive plate mail he's chosen to spend his life with. Yes, you read that right. This movie includes knight in armor toilet humor. It also includes the classic cliché exchange, "It's quiet…too quiet." And it has Morgan Le Fay in it! Why, how could you not love a fantasy movie with Morgan Le Fay in it? Hell, even Beastmaster had Morgan Le Fay in it! Wait, no it didn't. Well, it should have! Or maybe not. Maybe too many fantasy movies use Morgan Le Fay. Maybe it's time to say enough with the Morgan Le Fay already! But in this movie, Morgan Le Fay gets turned into a little orange toad and she can still talk! We've even got Sean Connery as the Green Knight himself, sporting an outfit that probably made him long for the loincloth from Zardoz. He spends the better part of the picture operating as the Great and Powerful Oz, looming over the proceedings like a dungeon master overseeing Gawain's adventure. Our boy Gawain becomes quite entangled with a princess from the magical city of Asgard, I mean, Leoness, which may only be reached by means of a rainbow bridge, which is summoned by blowing the first two notes of "Brazil" into this particular giant horn. The horn also summons a guardian, who turns betrayer, and the princess has a magic ring that turns you invisible, and, well, there's all kinds of stuff in this movie. Given that, you'd think it might be interesting, and on some moderate level, it is. But it's also painfully slow and amateurish, poorly acted (especially by the leads), and very, very unfunny when it tries to joke around. All the nonsense is accompanied by an appalling and repetitive synthesizer score of the one-keyboard variety popular among super-cheap soundtrack composers at the time.
But in the end, none of the movie's content is truly relevant to this review. The simple fact of the matter is that it is 2004, and this disc is new from MGM with a recycled transfer of a Cinemascope movie presented in pan-and-scan only. Case closed. Throw in the near-total lack of extras (only a pallid theatrical trailer is available), and the best thing to be said about this disc as a disc is that its menus are silent. A completely half-assed job on an utterly irrelevant catalog title from a catalog that was poor in the first place (Cannon films). MGM is wasting time and money with this stuff, which has only the cover and the deceptive second title to sell it. Considering how little screen time is taken with the adaptation of the Green Knight legend, it is rather sobering to think that MGM may hope to sell this title to schools who may hope to educate children in Arthurian literature using this movie. One look should be enough to convince any teacher otherwise. The only other draw is Connery, and anyone looking to enjoy Sean Connery in a movie had better look elsewhere, because they'll only just be embarrassed for him.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Anyone who enjoys seeing a strong-jawed, earnest man of fine physique displaying himself both shirtless and in a white tights with leather thigh-high boots, a floppy tunic, and a Buster Brown wig will find plenty to enjoy here. Seriously. No shortage. Abundance, even. Fans of the Hercules and Xena series may find some enjoyment in this earlier take on the same sort of approach.
Unless you are trying to entertain a mentally challenged child—no, scratch that. Any child, no matter how challenged, would probably still enjoy Krull more than this. Truly a quickie, although the extremes of costuming and very slow pace, combined with a slight bit of budget in the realm of horses and whatnot, might make this fine sport for a catcalling party—for those inclined toward such things. The camp entertainment value may be enough to balance the tedium, between Connery's performance, the costuming, and the little orange frog that Morgan Le Fay gets turned into…among other things. All told, this movie is trying pretty hard in its own way. Failing miserably, true, but still trying. The lackluster presentation gives the disc a stench, though. And frankly, letterboxing would be quite a boon in this case, since most viewers really don't want to get that close to this movie. Verily, there are miles and Miles O'Keeffe on your screen. And MGM has the gall to price this outside their ultra-cheap line. Unless you are a true bad film miner, this is really best avoided.
All parties associated with Sword of the Valiant are found guilty and sentenced to twenty straight days at the Renaissance Festival in the rat-catcher's tent. Connery and Rhys-Davies may choose to pay a fine instead. MGM video is found guilty of cheap catalog recycling and issuing this crap when there are gems left on their shelves, and sentenced to warehouses full of this disc. Miles O'Keeffe personally is sentenced to forever remember wearing that wig, but this is not the action of this court, merely a consequence of the movie itself. Court adjourned.
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