Article 5431 by Dave Sindelar
Directed by Joshua Logan
Featuring Richard Harris, Vanessa Redgrave, Franco Nero
What it is: Arthurian Musical
On the eve of his invasion of the castle of Sir Lancelot to retrieve Queen Guenevere, King Arthur speculates on the events of his life that brought him to this pass.
Adaptations of the story of King Arthur do not automatically qualify as examples of the fantastic genres for me. It mostly depends on how the character of Merlyn is personified; though sometimes he is portrayed as a wizard with supernatural powers, I’ve also seen him portrayed as little more than a trusted adviser to the king in movies that are striving to be more “realistic”, probably from directors who prefer to approach the legendary king as a historical figure rather than as a man of legend. This version is based on the novels of T.H. White, and that’s a good sign, since the Merlyn in this version was clearly a wizard. However, at this stage of the action, he exists as a memory, and though he appears twice during the movie, they may be as snatches of memory rather than as a mystical creature. Fortunately, there is one event in the middle of the movie that could be interpreted as a miracle, so whether this version of the story qualifies as a fantasy is a matter of interpretation.
Of course, this being a musical, the emphasis is not going to be on the adventures and exploits of the knights; in fact, only a tiny handful of them are even given names in this production. No, the emphasis was exactly where I feared it would be; this movie amounts to three hours of love triangle. I was hoping the emphasis would shift a bit once Mordred shows up two-thirds of the way through, but no, he’s mostly there to serve the triangle plot as well. And for me, the Arthur/Guenevere/Lancelot triangle is one of the least interesting parts of the story, though I do understand how central it is to the whole picture. Combine that with the fact that I’m not a musical fan (and the songs for this movie aren’t exciting enough to win me over), and I’m afraid I have to say that I found this one mostly a bore. The only scene that really caught my attention was the one with the potential miracle; it’s a scene where Lancelot is challenged by three jousters. The actors do a fine job; I’m especially impressed with Redgrave’s performance. However, ultimately, this movie largely reminds me of how much I like the song about Camelot from MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL better than anything here.