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Thursday, March 05, 2020

Where The Circus Came To Castles


Buoyant Burt Wields The Flame and The Arrow (1950)

Burt Lancaster flexed up and effected a much-needed image adjustment in this Warner period romp based superficially on their Errol Flynn model. Problem was fewer prepared to take these seriously anymore --- that forecasted in a last of large ones with Flynn himself, Adventures Of Don Juan --- and Lancaster was less swasher than misplaced acrobat, his inspiration more Doug Fairbanks than Errol. The Flame and The Arrow occupied a smaller stage than Fairbanks or Flynn in respective primes, Warners not willing to spend that sort of money again. Lancaster on his lark smiles a lot, rather overworks carefree attitude, and overall lacks Flynn's commitment to playing a costumer straight. That would deepen with The Crimson Pirate two years later, but Lancaster's idea was a modern and right one, as kid/teen crowds were done by '50 with palace and court intrigue played in earnest. Look at exhib comments on 50’s Dominant reissue of The Sea Hawk to know how impatient customers had become with all other than action served light.


Costuming had come back with a vengeance by 1950. Adventures Of Don Juan had not been the world-beater WB expected, but MGM's The Three Musketeers crashed through to astounding money ($9.5 million worldwide), and Columbia was making cottage industry of lower-cost John Derek, Larry Parks, et al, donned in tights. Unlike these, Lancaster was athletic in ways requiring not a double for breathless stunts he'd do, a main thrust of Flame and Arrow selling. After seasons enmeshed in coat/tie noir, this was Lancaster back to hit status of The Killers, a career hypo that utilized his old circus craft of high-wiring and flips in triplicate. Gene Kelly's dance background had helped his Musketeer leap over bounds, but Kelly took sword/sash even less seriously than Lancaster, so The Three Musketeers was a one-off. Despite success of The Flame and The Arrow ($2.6 million in profit --- by far Warners' best for that year), Lancaster would not be typed as Fairbanks/Flynn's successor. Maybe he knew that change coming quick with the 50's would put costuming to shades. A nice Warner Archive DVD is available.

4 Comments:

Blogger Unknown said...

I saw the Richard Lester THREE MUSKETEERS in a 5,000 seat Toronto theater. The audience went absolutely nuts from the first frame. When I experience 5,000 people shouting, "FAR OUT!" it's not that costume pictures are out of style but rather well done costume pictures are rarer than Dodo eggs.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

Does "The Devil's Disciple" (with Burt,Kirk and Olivier) count as a costume picture? Incredibly entertaining movie; would love to know it's box office take.

3:09 PM  
Blogger DBenson said...

I've become a fan of second-string swashbucklers and found several on respectable DVDs.

Mill Creek issued a nice and very cheap package titled "Robin Hood Origins", including four postwar Columbia features and a 1960 Hammer released by Columbia. Robin (or Robin Jr. in two of the films) is played by Cornel Wilde, Jon Hall and John Derek; Louis Hayward joins a semi-Robin Hood avenger in "The Black Arrow". Richard Greene returns to his TV role opposite Peter Cushing in the Hammer effort. Mill Creek also issued a "A Thousand and One Nights - The Story of Aladdin" which includes two Columbia Arabian Nights programmers (one featuring Phil Silvers with glasses), the Mr. Magoo "1,001 Arabian Nights", a more recent TV miniseries and an oddball musical.

As films they range from just adequate to pretty entertaining. Fun to spot recycled stock footage and sets. A palace exterior in "The Black Arrow" improbably turns up in "The Magic Carpet".

Sony released a Columbia double-header of "The Fortunes of Captain Blood" and "Captain Pirate", and it looks to be still in print. The first is in B&W, the second in color (with tinted flashbacks from the first), and Louis Hayward is Blood in both.

Universal has issued "Black Shield of Falworth" with Tony Curtis in armor and several of the Jon Hall / Maria Montez / Sabu Technicolor epics ("Cobra Woman" is a campy glory) as single discs. More economical is "Pirates of the Golden Age", which groups "Against All Flags" with three far more modest pirate pics (again, watch for recycled model shots and the like).

Disney's British features may have been As for that studio, but mostly play as above-average Bs with lavish matte paintings. "Treasure Island", "The Story of Robin Hood", and "The Fighting Prince of Donegal" hold up nicely.

There are a few Bob Hope comedies that qualify: "Princess and the Pirate", "Monsieur Beaucaire", and "Casanova's Big Night". I remember them all as lavish, but comic anachronisms bump them out the swashbuckler A list.

3:47 PM  
Blogger Steven said...

FLAME also boasts one of Max Steiner's best scores of the 1950s, adding to the buoyancy of a delightful film.

1:31 PM  

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