I love classic Hollywood movies. My parents were not big fans of the modern cinema so, in my house, it was John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Clark Gable, and Judy Garland ONLY! It has really influenced me, in both my writing and what I watch today. I’ll put on Turner Classic Movies before the “Big 3” prime time TV (ABC, NBC, CBS) any day. My kids used to hate that because I’d make them watch Them or Key Largo before American Idol.
It was some of those classic movies that influenced me as a writer. You can’t think about a character like Robin Hood and not think of Errol Flynn swinging through Sherwood Forest in those classic green tights. It may not have been practical, nor historically accurate, but it was colorful (as this was the beginning of technicolor movies) and oh so fun to watch. So, here are my TOP 5 classic medieval fantasy movies.
*NOTE: I am only ranking movies made before 1970, so Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Excalibur will not be included. See my previous blog on King Arthur and Pop Culture for references to those movies.
5. Prince Valiant (1954) — Robert Wagner called this film an “embarrassment” but I can’t help loving this movie. First off, I grew up reading the adventures of Prince Valiant every Sunday in the comics, so it’s a part of my own personal history. The plot was your basic “boy vows to become a knight and restore his family honor” gimmick… “After the evil King Sligon exiles his family from Scandia, Prince Valiant (Robert Wagner) vows to become a member of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table in order to return his father to the throne. As he travels to Camelot, Valiant discovers the Black Knight, a villain conspiring with Sligon to destroy King Arthur. Under the eye of Sir Gawain (Sterling Hayden), Valiant trains to become a knight, falls for a princess (Janet Leigh) and unmasks the Black Knight (James Mason). This movie had an all-star cast, which is one of the reasons I loved it so much. You just have to get past that awful haircut on Prince Valiant, which is why, I think, Robert Wagner was embarrassed by it.
4. The Flame and the Arrow (1950) — Burt Lancaster led this fun-filled, acrobatic movie. Set in Italy (not England, for a change), the story revolves around Italian archer Dardo Bartoli (Burt Lancaster), who is waging a war against the Hessians. His grudge against their leader, Count “The Hawk” Ulrich (Frank Allenby), is more than simply political. Long ago, he took away Dardo’s beautiful wife, Francesca. Then, Ulrich returned to steal the couple’s son, Rudi. Incensed, Dardo emerges as a rebel leader who may be able to drive out the Hessians for good. This movie shines solely because of Lancaster. His smile is infectious, and his grit and determination are intoxicating. It’s a fun movie, from beginning to end.
3. Ivanhoe (1952) — This movie had the Hollywood powerhouse of TWO Taylors… Elizabeth and Robert. This is different look using characters from the time of King Richard, just like Robin Hood. Loyal British knight Wilfred of Ivanhoe (Robert Taylor) sets out on a mission to free the kidnapped King of England, Richard the Lionheart (Norman Wooland). The brave Ivanhoe must eventually confront the devious Prince John (Guy Rolfe) and the fierce Norman warrior Brian de Bois-Guilbert (George Sanders), while also juggling the affections of the beautiful maidens Rowena (Joan Fontaine) and Rebecca (Elizabeth Taylor). Again, all-star cast carries this classic movie. Out of all the classics in my list. it has some of the best fight scenes.
2. The Black Shield of Falworth (1954) — Although this is not one of the more well-known classic medieval fantasy movies, it’s one of mine. Tony Curtis stars as the son of a disgraced knight who – noble by birth, noble by nature – attempts to thwart another noble’s attempts to take the throne of King Henry IV. Janet Leigh stars as the love interest for Curtis. What I love about this movie is how the plot unfolds. Curtis goes from secretly training as a squire to knighthood where he can challenge his enemy directly.
1. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) — There be no finer medieval film than this… A perfect cast, magnificent color cinematography and a wonderful musical score highlight this entertaining swashbuckler featuring Errol Flynn, the lovely Olivia de Havilland, Claude Rains, Alan Hale (Skipper from Gilligan’s Island fame), Basil Rathbone and Patric Knowles. The film went on to win three Academy Awards and was the second-highest grossing picture of the year. That says it all about this film. Most of us “baby boomers” kids from the 50s and 60s grew up with this film. You can’t help but love it! Sure, there have been plenty of remakes with non-English actors (hint, Kevin Costner) and that was fabulously mocked by Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights. It’s like we’ve always said, you can’t beat the original.
There are plenty of honorable mentions out there, like The Lion in Winter, Camelot, and The Magic Sword, but these are my idea of classic medieval fantasy movies. If I missed any, I would love to hear about them in the comments below. So, grab the popcorn, pour the soda and sit back and enjoy one of these movies at your next movie night.
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Mark Piggott is the author of the Forever Avalon book series. Forever Avalon is available for purchase as a book/ebook at Amazon. The Dark Tides is available for purchase as a book/ebook at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and iUniverse publishing. The Outlander War, Book Three of the Forever Avalon series is coming soon.